The power of difference and empathy – Mosaic Partnerships, by Bob Rosenfeld



How can people who appear so different work together so effectively?

Our work with our ISPI (Innovation Strengths Preference Indicator) assessment tool builds more innovative and competitive teams in business. It is good business. However, the greatest reward is how we use it to bridge diversity gaps in communities – groups that innovate to equitably solve civic and social problems.

We call this the Mosaic Partnership Program.

Mosaic partners are pairs. Two people, always of different demographic backgrounds. Mostly this has been one person of color and one white person. Often there are economic and education differences. We pair people in two ways. First with a demographic assessment tool that assures we are creating a pair that would be unlikely to happen on its own. We WANT difference! The second way for the pairings (uses the ISPI) assures similarities in what really counts: how people go about interacting, learning, and solving problems. We are currently presenting this program in Topeka, KS where the community is making progress with a raft of initiatives. Our initiative facilitates groups comprised of high functioning pairs. In the past we have done it in Rochester, NY, our backyard, Greensboro, NC, the home of the Center for Creative Leadership, and Milwaukee, WI. Currently we are in discussions with Kansas City, Mi, and other cities to continue to introduce this program. Why do we need diverse pairs? Why do we need a Black participant and a white one to get to know each other so that they can do other community development work? Three reasons you want diversity for problem solving:

  1. We know that diversity of personalities and experiences often yields better solutions.

  2. We cannot understand or experience the changes, and often the pain of others without developing trust with each other.

  3. We avoid shallow, feel-good initiatives common in community-oriented committees. Instead, we want to arrive at innovative solutions that address the core problems and do not overlook the pressing needs.

One cannot truly feel this second-handed by reading The New Yorker or The Atlantic Monthly or even The Root. One must experience it.


Two Personal Examples of Experiencing It:

1) My family (above) is composed of 7 multi-national, multi-racial children. Two are homemade and 5 are adopted who are all racially diverse. One Sunday morning there was a knock at our door. We were all in pajamas enjoying a leisurely breakfast. Upon opening the door, I greeted a police officer who was investigating a neighborhood bike theft. A witness had described a tall Black teenager as the possible thief.


“I understand you have Black children,” said the officer. “May I see them?” I explained that my children were younger and small; not yet “tall.”


He persisted and wanted to see them. I simply said no and shut the door. Objectively, you could say the officer was doing his job, perhaps ruling out potential suspects, but these were my children, and I would protect them from the indignity of an authority figure making broad, race-based assumptions. I FELT this for them!

2) Another time, my teenaged, adopted daughter was arrested for walking while Black (WWB) at 3:00 PM in the afternoon. She and two friends were walking to a corner 711 store in her aunt’s neighborhood for some snacks. She and her friend left the first store and went to a different one a block away.


When they emerged, they saw a police car with the third friend in it. He quickly called out to them to call his mom because there was a problem. He had been mistaken for a youth suspected of a shooting several streets away. The suspect had dread locks but he had corn rows. The white officers could not tell the difference.


My daughter’s friend got terribly upset and began to shout at the police at which point a second police car arrived and both girls were taken into custody in that car. All three were brought to the city jail where they spent the night. She did not call us that night because she did not want to disturb us.


The next morning my wife got a call advising her to appear in court for our daughter’s hearing. My wife, of course, went. She was the only white person present in the courtroom. When my daughter appeared before the judge he asked her why she was arrested, and she honestly answered, “I don’t know." The judge asked her if her parents were in court and if so to please stand. The judge instantly made a connection when my wife stood up. He recognized my daughter from her work at Wegman’s where he often shops. He asked her for a version of what happened and then a few more questions and ended with, “I trust you will not appear in this court again.”


He dropped the charges.


Regrettably, I missed this whole chapter in our lives because I was on a business trip.


You say, “That’s horrible” and it is. The only way we are going to understand this is to allow yourself to be in a relationship with a person of difference so that you can get close to them and feel their joy and pain. Mosaic Partnerships was created for exactly that purpose. Until I can feel the friendship, I will not feel the pain or joy.

How Do People Truly Bond?


Mosaic Partnerships work because the partners are well matched below the surface, different on the outside and very similar on the inside.


They approach their lives and their work and their decisions in similar ways. They value intuition, perception and judgement similarly. They also often experience their different family issues in the same way. Mosaic partners can connect, care about each other, and get things done effectively in a larger group. Many of the partners have maintained their friendship for many years; some of them for two decades.


You can learn more about how this is working in Topeka, KS now. You can also ask us about Mosaic initiatives in your community or organization.


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