Embrace Diversity of Thought, Today’s Number One Innovation Dynamo

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Companies proudly say that people are their best asset, but it’s actually effective collaboration that lies at the core of problem solving and innovation. Those that truly value diversity have a card up on their sleeve. More and more organizations are taking advantage of a heterogeneous work environment and make the most of people’s different interests and ideas. Here’s how to help diverse team members work together.

Diversity triggers innovation

Our thoughts make us unique. In today’s business environment being diverse can be better than being the smartest person in the room. A random group of intelligent people outperforms the gang of the best and the brightest employees, a study conducted at the Michigan Business School and Loyola University has shown. “In a problem-solving context, a person’s value depends on her ability to improve the collective decision,” researchers say.

“Multiple voices lead to new ideas, new services, and new products, and encourage out-of-the box thinking,” Forbes Insights wrote in a paper after talking to 300 senior executives from around the world. Diversity helps drive innovation, executives say. More than half of those working at companies with over $10 billion in annual revenues strongly agree with that.

“Because of our diverse workforce, we’ve experienced a boost in productivity. When you can move people to contribute to their fullest, it has a tremendous impact,” said Rosalind Hudnell, Vice President, Human Resources at Intel. Nearly all of the companies questioned in the Forbes study have strategies to promote difference in people and ideas.

Diversity of thought is the foundation of diversity, and it defines “the ultimate performance of workgroups,” according to Vincent M. Cramer, a researcher who examined the shortcomings of team innovation in the modern economy. He believes that people are most energized by diversity of thought, that helps fuel innovation and generate creativity.

Strategies to promote collaboration

Being surrounded by diverse people is one thing, but creating an environment to promote diversity is another. When people work together, the differences can lead to both conflict and cooperation. Great teams know that collaboration is not only about working together and learning from each other. It’s about always being hungry for new ideas and finding joy in hearing people that have different opinions and attitudes.

Those who have been working together for a long time begin to behave similar and to generate the same ideas. By contrast, difference in thoughts leads to knowledge and helps you be off the beaten track.

Authors Judith H. Katz and Frederick A. Miller have four keys to foster diversity, presented in their book Opening Doors to Teamwork and Collaboration:

  • Lean into Discomfort, which opens the door to trust. First, it feels like taking a risk, but the step is necessary to improve collaboration. As people feels safe to open up, their ideas flow.
  • Listen as an Ally, which opens the door to collaboration. It’s important to really hear colleagues, but to really hear yourself as well. The organization’s goals will be achieved faster.
  • State your Intent and Intensity, which opens the door to understanding. It helps people know the direction you’re taking taking and this enables a greater understanding of each other.
  • Share your Street Corner, which opens the door to breakthroughs. The team learns to hear differences as contributions. By using combined resourced, you get a 360-degree view. You could achieve as a team breakthroughs that no one could have envisioned alone.

They say that great minds think alike. It today’s work environment you need minds that innovate and foster new ideas. Welcome people that have the skills and the background that you lack. Then teach them about collaboration and give them access to tools that facilitate sharing ideas and expertise. Helping them align around a shared objective is your key to success. “Differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear,” as Gene Roddenberry, the father of Star Trek, put it.

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