Discover how Ariel Coro's personal journey of innovation and self-discovery can inspire you to embrace your unique traits and create a safe space for innovation in your organization.
After completing my virtual presentation for the Capital One ERG Hispanics in Tech, I have to say I was a bit overwhelmed. It took some self-reflection to figure out why but then I realized that this presentation was about my personal journey, a journey that, not unlike that of others, has taken many twists and turns. Looking back, I wouldn’t have imagined in a million years, when I was a 15-year-old boy in Havana that I would have the privilege to present to an organization respected and admired by so many.
This time, instead of going through figures and statistics (a necessary evil in some Zooms), I shared my personal journey. A journey that was tougher than I care to remember and it’s probably because of all the baggage involved. It’s hard for people to imagine what it is to have grown up in a country like Cuba. Although you see it in movies and hit TV shows like The Americans, authoritarianism is something that you can only grasp when it happens to you.
Years later, I was fortunate enough to emigrate to the United States, and then realizing all the opportunities that lie within this country, I couldn’t stop thinking about how to better myself and continue to grow personally. This led me to study hard, and work even harder and just a few years later, I was working for a Fortune 100 company, making six figures in the early part of the century. I didn’t understand the enormity of this achievement then, as many times, you can only realize the true impact of an event by looking in the rearview mirror.
For me, coming to corporate America was a true awakening and after I moved on to pioneer a career in the media world by teaching Hispanics that technology could be our best ally, I realized that continuous innovation and reinvention don’t come without introspection and without that constant need to question your current situation.
The main theme of Innovating with an Accent was to showcase how a kid from Cuba that came to this country at 18 years old, not even speaking English, could be working for a major corporation with a dream job just a few years later. I also wanted to stress how having an accent, which I still currently have, was an asset for me personally, although I was told many times throughout my career that I should work to eliminate it, but not by the people you may think. It’s a funny story.
You would think that Corporate America would be lukewarm to the idea of hiring an immigrant, but the opposite was true, it was the media world that tried to change me because it wasn’t that I had an accent in English (which I do), it was because I had an accent in Spanish. Because I had a Cuban accent demographically speaking, according to them, most Hispanics wouldn’t identify with me. I’m glad that I didn’t listen and honestly, didn’t care. I don’t know if I could have been a bigger star in the Hispanic TV world but that’s never how I saw my role. I was there to help people, to open their eyes, and to show that we shouldn’t be afraid of technology, that we should support our children to embrace STEM careers, even if we didn’t understand it all too well.
Innovating with an Accent is the concept of bringing your true self to your environment and embracing who you are, where you come from and how those individual traits, that mark, that “accent” you have, can make you special. When you combine your traits, quirks, backgrounds, and thoughts with a diverse team, the end product of what you are trying to achieve tends to be that much better. It’s a story of how people from different disciplines and backgrounds can come together to make a big impact and how many industries have found “impossible” solutions from other disciplines that were not even remotely related.
It all comes down to creating a safe space for innovation where people can contribute, brainstorm and even fail in a safe environment because, without this safety, your organization will eliminate bold proposals and daring ideas. You know, the ones that seem crazy at the beginning but end up changing the world?
For me, that was making a satellite dish with an empty coffee can and an old Soviet radio. What would it be for you and your organization?