diversity and innovation
Insight

Stop Paying Lip Service to Diversity: Start Investing In Your Future

In the next 10 years, 40% of current Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist. Disruption is everywhere and it is turning industry upside down. Innovation is no longer a fancy buzzword; it is a business imperative for survival. But innovation doesn’t happen magically. You need fresh thinking and an openness to change in order to seize new opportunities. That’s why diverse voices and perspectives are powerful forces in fueling innovation.

Power of the Hive Mind

Innovation used to be the mandate of a small elite group, but that mandate is evolving because a broad group of people can come up with more powerful ideas than one can alone. In fact, Professor Ron Burt of the University of Chicago conducted an empirical study indicating that people with more diverse sources of information generate consistently better ideas. Diversity is key to embracing the power of the hive mind. That’s why businesses ranging from Anheuser-Busch and Toyota to Victoria’s Secret tap into the voices of their customers and employees to get deep insights and breakthrough ideas.

Embracing Otherness

The connection between diversity and innovation, however, goes far beyond having a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds to inform decision-making. Businesses also create an environment for innovation when they foster workplaces where employees learn from others and embrace differences in cultures, habits, and perspectives.

There is something deeper and more profound that happens when you surround yourself with people who look, act, and think differently than you do. Those that embrace otherness in people are better equipped to accept the “otherness” that innovation represents. People who flourish in a diverse environment possess the right mind set and state of emotional readiness to succeed amid the new.

The Value of Empathy

I was recently reminded of the link between diversity and business success when PepsiCo executive Brad Jakeman criticized agencies for being homogenous. At the Association of National Advertising’s annual conference, he was quoted as saying, “I am sick and tired of sitting in agency meetings with a whole bunch of white straight males talking to me about how we are going to sell our brands that our bought 85 percent by women. Innovation and disruption does not come from homogeneous groups of people.”

I agree. When your organization is composed of people of different colors, beliefs, sexual orientations, ethnicities, nationalities, and ages, your business more accurately reflects the very environment your customers inhabit. Diversity makes you more empathetic to an increasingly multi-cultural world.

Unlocking Human Potential

I’ve personally witnessed the impact of diversity on innovation. There is openness to established protocols being challenged. There is deep empathy for other people’s needs and context. There is a genuine desire to understand and connect. There is a high degree of comfort with newness and change. There is an insatiable hunger for learning and growth. There is lasting transformation.

We fear the unknown and the unfamiliar. We avoid change because it’s uncomfortable. But our greatest treasures lie on the other side of the chasm. Diversity and innovation demand similar attributes – openness to the unfamiliar, acceptance of the unknown, and excitement for change. Diversity is about accepting otherness and differences in perspectives so that the most powerful ideas prevail.

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