Diversify or die.
At one time that phrase warned companies of the dangers of staying in the same place for too long. A reminder that to avoid stagnation – they had to innovate. Fast forward to today and diversity of your people is recognised as a key driver for innovation, so it might be time to take a closer look at your team.
In the 1950’s Marcel Bich created the original Bic pen disrupting inkwell pens. Instead of incrementally innovating the pens, Bic diversified and became the market leader for disposable products. Environmentally damaging as it may appear to us today Bic provides a great example of a former meaning of diversify or die.
Today diversity is about the power of diverse humans. Humans who come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and mindsets. In our everyday lives we can have a range of humans we turn to for different aspects of our lives. For example, we all know who’s good at listening, who’s good at building IKEA furniture, and who’s great for when we want to celebrate something in a really big way. Even our families are made up of diversely different human personalities.
Now let’s take the work environment. Just Google ‘types of people you want on your team’, and the pattern you’ll soon notice is that combinations of different personalities make up the best teams, Starters to Finishers, and everything in between. Nothing new really, everyone from the Harvard Business Review to Forbes to random blogposts all shout the same message – diverse teams get the best results, and workplace diversity drives innovation. Both Frans Johnasson’s Great Place to Work and Deloitte describe diverse and inclusive teams as the ‘engines of innovation’.
That got me thinking. If diversity is vital to innovation are companies doing themselves a disservice by looking for a cultural fit?
Cultural fit implies:
- Compatibility with company culture – yet this very compatibility may breed bias and homogenous workplaces. Maybe innovation is more likely to happen when opposites attract?
- Hiring people just like us – yet the solutions we’re unable to find are not likely to be generated from those with a similar perspective or mindset to us, are they?
- Upholding the status quo of the company – yet we don’t grow or innovate in the status quo. Most innovations occur when the status quo is challenged, don’t they?
Perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board and explore the benefits of diversity to appreciate the value add it brings to the team, and the bottom line. Followed up by asking, how diverse are we as a team? Are we diverse enough to generate innovative ideas?
As Ben Weinlick states, “Innovation comes about through combining disparate ideas and disciplines in ways that seem weird at first. Get comfortable with weird if you want real innovation to emerge.”
When I get asked why I spent 10 years researching Business Mavericks, I guess in many ways it was about standing on a soapbox and raising awareness of what Maverick diversity brings to the table. Mavericks who can’t help but ask the elephant in the room question. Who are going to challenge and ask, “why things have to be done the way they’ve always been done?”, and when someone says no, they’re going to ask, “Why not?”.
Not surprisingly the research on Mavericks suggests they are notoriously linked to innovation. Albeit being hard wired to seek a bigger, better, stronger, faster way, for most companies Mavericks are inherently not a ‘cultural fit’. It’s probably why companies create skunkworks, to keep them out of the corporate way, until they produce something of monetary value. I wonder what the world would look like if the corporate environment embraced Mavericks with open arms, looking at them, and others who were diverse to the norm, and actively recruited them for both their ‘culture add’ and ‘value add.’
Let me leave you with a real-world Maverick example: Temple Grandin is autistic women, who was uncomfortable being held by a human. She created a wooden frame that held her without the human touch and found that it calmed her. Her deep spatial awareness led her ideas to contribute to the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter. Temple is a spokesperson for autism, has had a Hollywood biopic made of her life, and in 2010 was voted one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. As Temple says, “Different, not less.”
To explore more schedule a ‘Diversity & innovation for a better world‘ Play Shop.