Diversity and Serial Innovation

According to recent research by Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), there is a significant link between diversity and innovation – if you understand how to unlock the potential.

CTI is a New York based leading global talent think tank with members such as McKinsey & Company, Google, Hewlett-Packard and New York Times.

With input from 1,800 survey respondents, 40 Fortune 500 case studies and 100 plus innovators, the CTI-research found that the existence of two-dimensional (2D) diversity in an organisation could be a magical driver for serial innovation. And what 2D innovation is, you might ask? A combination of two kinds of diversity: Inherent and Acquired. Let us have a closer look:

Inherent diversity covers the “embodied” human factors such as gender, race, age, religious background, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation and nationality. That is, the traits you were born with and have been consequently conditioned by.

Acquired diversity is appropriated skills such as cultural fluency, generational savvy, gender smarts, social media skills, cross-functional knowledge, global mind-set, military experience and language skills. These are based on experience and learning.

So….besides the differences in terms of education, profession and key responsibilities, diversity in deeply personal traits and life experience is important. And why do these parameters count in the company’s ability to innovate? Because diverse individuals are better attuned to the unmet needs of consumers or clients like themselves, CTI suggests. If you think about it, this makes great sense: all of your ideas are based upon your perception of the world – but this will not necessarily reflect the diversity of the market.

Being able to create 2D diversity obviously pays off. CTI research shows that employees in publicly traded organisations with 2D diversity are 70 per cent more likely to see their organisation capture a new market, and 45 per cent more likely to see their organisation improve market share, than those without this diversity. Diverse organisations have an ability to bring more passion, creativity and openness to radical and transformative ideas. The question is how to establish this 2D diversity.

The role of the diverse leader

The existence of a diverse workforce doesn’t guarantee that organisations innovate. Diversity exists naturally in a lot of multinational companies. Inclusion does not, and inclusion and an internal speak-up culture turn out to be the key for unlocking the innovative potential of diversity. The speak-up culture is characterised by giving people authority to express views and opinions and make them fell recognised and listened to.

According to the research, leaders who have acquired diversity are much more likely to act inclusively and gain insight from an inherently diverse workforce than the leaders who haven’t. In other words a 2D diverse company will harness inherent diversity in their workforce and acquired diversity in leadership. The acquired diversity in leadership creates the best base for an inclusive speak-up culture, which unlocks the potential of innovation in the inherent diverse workforce.

This is already realised in different large businesses e.g. American Cisco, which use an inclusion and diversity strategy to build upon the company’s goals and strengths and support the overall strategy. The chairman and CEO John Chambers says:

“When we talk about diversity at Cisco…it’s about inclusion – bringing together a diverse workforce with unique life experiences, cultures, talents and perspectives. We promote a creative, innovative and collaborative environment that helps drive our business strategy.”

Another example is Nosco client, world-leading bioinnovator, Novozymes. In the evaluation on the internal idea management campaign “GrowBets”, Novozymes found clear evidence that diversity among work teams increased the quality of the outcome of ideas. This reinforced the conclusion that diversity matters and that a company culture pushing accountabilities and decision-making power as far out in the organisation as possible, was critical for mobilized diversity.

How to foster a speak-up culture

Six identified behaviours for leaders have a correlation to an innovative and inclusive speak-up culture and “leaders who exhibit at least three of these six behaviours unlock innovative capacity by unlocking the full spectrum of perspectives, opinions and toolkits that diverse individuals bring to problem-solving”, according to the research.

To foster this desirable culture, the leader should:

  • Ensure that everyone speaks up and gets heard
  • Empower team members to make decisions
  • Make it safe to risk proposing novel ideas
  • Take advice and implement feedback
  • Give feedback that can be actioned
  • Share credit for team success.

This is worth aiming for! Employees in 2D diverse organisations are 75 per cent more likely to have had a marketable idea implemented than employees at companies that fail to harness these drivers.

How diverse is your organisation?


Find the report here

Read how Cisco creates a sustainable inclusion and diversity strategy



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  3. Aman
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    Very informative piece, thank you. Is there a:
    1. Matrix or grid that I can use to calculate the 2-D diversity of my team?
    2. Definition or an example of “cultural fluency”?

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