Torian is the CEO & Founder of Guanxi Universal, which is currently producing a Madagascan documentary. But that’s really just a side gig for him: His main job is teaching businesses about solidarity, which is technically under the D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) space, but Torian thinks the word “diversity” is much more nearsighted than solidarity.
Most of my guests I’ve known for years — several, for decades. Torian’s different: he’s a guy I recently met, but I instantly knew we would be lifelong friends. Also, usually I’m the one traveling for an interview, but Torian just flew about 25 hours.
He grew up in Chicagoland, speaks Mandarin, has been to 70 countries, and became the first person in his family to go to college (got his master’s in China, and completed 2 different leadership programs with Harvard).
Let’s Start With a Turkish Bath
If you want to get to know Torian, let’s start with a quick detour about a Turkish bath.
Let’s set the stage. Torian’s not a small guy by any means. He’s a tall, studly, well-groomed, goateed, and bald African American.
Picture him walking up to a 1,000-year-old Turkish bath and asking for a traditional bath:
He was on his way back from an international trip, and had a layover in Istanbul. He wanted an authentic Turkish bath. So he had one. The first stop? Undressing in front of another man, one of the attendants, who then walks over and begins to scrub everything while you stand, completely naked.
<“If we focus on the 96-97% of things we have in common, that’s how we move the needle forward in an exponential way.” — Torian Richardson
Next, another attendant joined the first and they began to scrape dead skin cells off of Torian’s body, essentially exfoliating every inch of his body. “I was uncomfortable,” Torian said. It rubbed against everything he had ever thought about masculinity.
But he forced himself through. Because he wanted the experience, he wanted to understand the process and be challenged.
From Chicagoland to China
Believe it or not, Torian wasn’t born in a Turkish bath. He was born in Chicagoland, into an abusive home. Many of his best memories were spent on his bicycle, as he would ride away from the turbulence of his home, and people watch: He noticed the differences in the varying neighborhoods, observing the experiences others had, watching and learning from the differences and similarities of others.
Later, he moved to a much more affluent neighborhood, but his people-watching continued. This curiosity propelled him into his current career as a Solidarity expert (again, most would put this right into the D&I Category).
Difference Between ‘Diversity’ & ‘Solidarity’
Torian’s not splitting hairs here. He shared a true distinction between the two: Diversity typically implies one person has power over another. The individual with the power is helping the other person achieve something by allowing them into their world.
Solidarity speaks to the intrinsic value of both parties, and says that by standing together, you both have something to gain from the relationship.
There are 4 key areas he identified where we must consider solidarity:
- Societal: the overarching authority within given systems, such as the government
- Institutional: banks, businesses, shopping
- Interpersonal: relationships between ourselves and others (usually the highest level over which we have direct control)
- Internal: where we question our own views on the world. (Torian says this one is actually the most difficult for individuals)
Ok, so within these 4 different areas, I wanted to know exactly how people can address solidarity, how we can learn to learn from others, be an observer of the world, and not just an enforcer of our own ideas.
<“If I’m approaching you empathetically, it’s not what about what I think. It’s what about you think.” — Torian Richardson>
Here’s what Torian said:
1: Recognize Differences as the Path to Innovation
Differences are the key to innovation. When we are trying to accomplish something new, we have to realize our differences are the path to the fresh frontier.
2: Focus on the 96-97% of Similarities
From riding around all those neighborhoods, to studying at Harvard, to living in China and working on 4 different continents, here’s what Torian has discovered: We are all about 96-97% similar. Our differences are minor.
Focus on the similarities — that’s how we will move the needle exponentially
3: Listen to Those You Disagree With
Torian is my kind of guy: He specifically surrounds himself with people and ideas who disagree with him. He ensures that he has empathy for their position. When he enters into a conversation, he says we must all be there to learn from the other person and their experience, not to teach them. If you listen with an empathetic attitude, you aren’t necessarily going to agree, but chances are you will at least understand their perspective.
4: Importance of Forgiveness
Ok, let’s stop here for a second. This is huge: Torian said until he let go of his childhood abuse, forgave his aggressors, and allowed healing in his life, nothing really took flight.
Let’s just take one small slice of Torian’s life: He has a bachelor’s from Benedictine, a master’s from Tsinghua University in China, and has completed two different programs at Harvard’s Business School. Guess what? He’s the first person in his family to go to college. Forgiveness was the first step.
50 Years From Now, What Do You Want Your Legacy To Be?
This is my favorite question to ask every guest on our podcast. Torian’s response came from his experience: He spent the last 5 to 6 months with three loved ones who were dying of cancer. He learned that their regret wasn’t the dollars in their bank accounts, or the stupid mistakes they’d made: They only regret missed opportunities.
So, for Torian, his legacy will be this:
To inspire others into doing the impossible.
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