Patterns & Insights

Leveraging Diversity for Innovation

by | Jun 16, 2018 | culture, innovation, leadership

In my experiences, whether intervening as a consultant or being asked to lead an initiative as an employee, I have learned the value of being open minded on sources of new, creative and innovative solutions. My experience and basic common sense suggests that often to understand an issue or opportunity, it is best to view it and analyze it from a variety of perspectives.  In pursuing my hobby as an amateur photographer, I find the element of perspective a fascinating source of potential for creating beautiful and unique photography!

I often write about the importance of an active effort to establish diversity amongst the leadership team and have referred to research in Stall Points, an excellent book that explores research on why some companies seem to get stuck.  As obvious as this benefit of engaging diverse perspectives seems, however, it is astounding how often leaders do not tap this source or resist the recommendations of diversifying the team tasked with recommending solutions, developing strategies, or mitigating obstacles.  As a consultant, I have often seen example after example where a lack of diversity (experience, perspectives, genders, age, culture) is a hinderance for an organization – particularly when the customers they seek to attract are unlike them.  It seems so obvious but is so often not obvious to business founders or owners until you point it out to them.  I have found myself suggesting more than once, ‘You say your target customer looks like, thinks like, evaluates like, and considers from this perspective, but no one on your team has ever walked a day in their shoes!’

Human nature plays a role as people generally like to gather and surround themselves with like minded folks – when everyone around you thinks like you do it makes you feel better and stronger, it boosts your ego, and just generally feels more “comfortable.”  However, ask really successful leaders what are the elements of their success and in many cases they attribute some part of their success to a vigilance to seek alternative and diverse perspectives – they often mention having a key individual on their team that serves to question and challenge the status quo as critical.  When an organization begins to “look too much alike” (in the abstract or the concrete) it may be a sign that a blind spot is growing in the organization.

In The Medici Effect, by Frans Johansson, Johansson explores the concept of  “Innovation at the Intersection,” and draws parallels to a time in history – the Italian Renaissance, where the Medici family funded and attracted a host of painters, sculptors, poets, scientists, philosophers, architects, and financiers to the beautiful Florence, Italy.  These disciplines met in public meeting places, debated, discussed, argued, agreed and disagreed on a wide variety of topics – but in the end they learned from one another and drew inspiration for innovations across many fields.

In concept it should be straightforward, tap resources with diverse backgrounds, experience, ethnicity, gender, or expertise to tackle your next strategy project.  Resist the urge to call together the same group you always call for recommendations – the group that may have started looking too much like you. Include an engineer in a marketing/sales focused project, include a finance person with a diverse experience perspective from another industry, or embrace other individuals with experience from other industries!  The smart and creative energy they infuse in your opportunity can prove to be very insightful and differentiating for your company in the marketplace! Can you share examples when collaboration across diverse disciplines ignited innovation for your efforts?

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