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How, Specifically Does Diversity Add Value To Innovation?

By 30/03/2019Nov 23rd, 2021No Comments

Diversity is very much trending at present, though in a world where innovation is essential to sustainable profit do we actually understand the business case for diversity or do we still think of diversity as a compliance issue? Do we understand that it’s a proven fact that homogeneity is corrosive to innovation? The most innovative companies globally embrace heterogeneity!


In this week’s video I mentioned 3 quick reasons why diversity is of value in innovation, so let’s explore them in a little more detail.


  1. Each stage of the innovation process requires different cognitive skills:


The innovation process of Design Thinking can be divided into 3 main stages according to Tim Brown of IDEO, considered the godfather of sorts of Design Thinking. Design Thinking is the main process used in innovation though has been recently updated to merge with Systems Thinking. The three main stage of Design Thinking are; Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation. The last stage includes prototyping or preferably rapid prototyping with the insights being used to recommence the process.


Each of the three stages requires different cognitive skills which no one individual possesses. If a company is failing to innovate, they have insufficient skills required for one or more of the stages, inspiration, ideation and implementation.


Broadly speaking the Myers Briggs profiles can be used to gauge the skills gaps. The stage of Inspiration requires open minded abstract, big picture systems thinkers with heightened emotional intelligence to observe and connect at a deeper level with stakeholders (deductive reasoning). The second stage of Ideation requires the converting of the insights received from the inspiration stage into firstly divergent and then convergent ideas or simply put ideas that are technologically feasible and financially viable (abductive reasoning).  This stage requires high levels of creative and strategic thinking. The final stage of implementation requires a more detailed and action orientated operational focus (inductive reasoning).


Each stage requires different cognitive skills which are not all present in one individual nor one homogenous group.


  1. Innovation is all about thinking differently, the higher the heterogeneity the richer the ideas generated:


Research shows that the higher the levels of diversity in a company the higher the quality of the ideas generated and its these ideas which fuels innovation. The reason for this is that every single person has different; beliefs, values, meta programs, cultures and so forth. This means that no two people see the world the same. In fact, the average person only sees 40bits of information per second of the 11millions bits of information available. Meaning there truly is no reality as its all individual perception. These 40 bits of information are filtered by the Reticular Activating System or RAS and what it filters depends of what we choose to focus on. So, for those choosing to hold onto only their perspective of reality, their model of the world, they are missing close on 11million bits of remaining information and operating counter innovatively.


To think differently for innovation is to suspend known patterns of thought and consider the unknown.


  1. The genders are neurologically different, and each are of value to innovation


Women are stronger with regards to; diversity, intercultural empathy, and diplomacy.


Men are stronger with regards to; global business savvy, cosmopolitan outlook, and interpersonal impact.


Both skills sets are essential to innovation though as innovation is largely human centric, one human being designing for another human being, and thus fuelled by empathy and diversity, this makes the skills of women increasingly key to innovation success in the Exponential Age.


“The world’s economy loses USD 160 trillion in wealth due to gender inequality. When you have women in positions of leadership, business does better and there’s more innovation, more value creation and more profit,” said Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission of Africa (ECA).


The value is obvious so how does a company start to embrace diversity? You start with the board, how diverse is the board? And if the board is indeed diverse then how much of a voice is diversity given? If all are given equal voice the next question is whether diversity and inclusion is a strategic objective and how is this being implemented daily?


Research by McKinsey and echoed by the IMF shows that Inclusive Diversity alone increases innovation value by 35%.


“The chair and the CEO must make a shared commitment to role-model the behaviours they want the organization to adopt—namely, purposeful, authentic and inclusive leadership. Coach and mentor inclusive leaders, with the recognition that diverse teams require different management skills/leadership styles than homogeneous ones do.”


Next week we will explore inclusion, why inclusion, what does inclusion mean, what prevents it, how do we cultivate it and what if we don’t?