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Coaching to a New York City State of Mind

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A City of Diversity

We have all known for many years, through the movies we watch, novels we have read and even the stories we have heard told by our parents (or more often grandparents) that New York City is the fountainhead of American Immigration. Many immigrants (especially from Europe) were processed through Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty lovingly offers a welcome to immigrants in its harbor location and its words of dedication. New York City’s reputation as a city of diversity goes well beyond the stories of immigration. Many immigrants moved away from New York City soon after they arrived. However, other immigrants stayed and even those who moved on left their imprint. New York City is truly a “melting pot” or more appropriately a “smorgasbord” (with individual ethnic identities often being preserved in specific neighborhoods).  As a visitor to New York City I can savor the same food that I would order in Italy, China or Ethiopia, witness or even participate in the same rituals and ceremonies I would find in a Mid-Eastern Mosque or Taiwanese Temple, and listen to conversations spoken in many different languages. I can even visit the United Nations when visiting New York City—the symbol of ultimate multi-culturalism.

As experts in ecological systems tell us, it is at the boundaries between systems that there is to be found the most abundant life.  Much of the life on our planet, for instance, is to be found at the boundary between sea and land. Environmental richness—the diversity of species—exists where one system collides with another.  One of the prominent scholars of complexity, Scott Page, writes extensively about the benefits to be derived from diversity.  According to Page (2011), diversity enhances the robustness of complex systems, drives innovation and productivity, makes any system more interesting and absorbs large scale events that would otherwise have a profound impact on the functioning of an ecological system.  Perhaps most importantly, diversity in any system, such as New York City, increases complexity. This is a real challenge for anyone living in a diverse system, for complexity produces ambiguity, bewilderment, anxiety and sheer exhaustion. It is not only because complex (and diverse) systems contain many moving parts (this is a complicated system), it is also because these moving parts are all interconnected. When any one part moves (changes) then all other parts of the system have to change. That’s what makes complex systems (such as New York City) so “tippy” (unstable) and unpredictable.  One thing gets messed up (an auto accident or construction project on the Lower East Side) and the ramifications are widespread (traffic jams all the way to the Upper West Side and on the bridges leading into and out of Manhattan).  Thus, a diverse city such as New York and a state of mind that is filled with diversity tends to offer great opportunities –and many challenges.

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