How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity

The Power of Diversity

I’m a passionate believer in diverse teams. Throughout my life and career, I have seen the benefits from multiple perspectives examining a problem together. If everyone thinks exactly the same way, with the same background, you end up with a narrow solution. A lack of diversity increases the likelihood of strategic blind spots.

 

“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” –J.F.K.

 

That’s why I read with great interest David Livermore’s new book, Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity. David Livermore has written ten books on global leadership and cultural intelligence. He is president of the Cultural Intelligence Center and a visiting scholar at Nanyang Business School in Singapore.

 

“A lack of diversity increases the likelihood of strategic blind spots.” -Skip Prichard

 

The Goal of Diversity is Not Enough

In your book, you argue that diversity, as a goal, is not good enough. Would you elaborate on this?

I applaud any effort to hire a more diverse workforce. But if that’s all you do, you set everyone up for failure. “Different” perspectives, values, and strategies for getting work done easily lead to misunderstanding, frustration, and gridlock. Diversity needs to be managed with a culturally intelligent strategy for how to effectively use the diverse perspectives to drive innovation and improve employee engagement.

 

“The more diverse the team, the less likely participants will offer their input and perspectives.” –David Livermore

 

The Link Between Innovation and Diversity

You say that diversity by itself does not ensure innovation, but it does when combined with high CQ. What is CQ? What’s the link between innovation and diversity? 

Driven by DifferenceCQ, or cultural intelligence, is the capability to work effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. It’s measured using a CQ Assessment, which predicts how effectively one will work in situations characterized by cultural diversity.

Our research finds that diverse teams comprised of individuals with low CQ underperform homogenous teams with low CQ. However, diverse teams comprised of individuals with high CQ outperform homogenous teams on several measurements including innovation.

Therefore, CQ becomes the moderating link between diversity and innovation. With higher levels of cultural intelligence, team members can effectively retain and use the differences among them that enhance creativity while minimizing the differences that create interference.

 

“Distraction is one of the biggest roadblocks to innovation.” –David Livermore

 

Prevent Diversity Fatigue

What’s diversity fatigue and how do companies prevent it?

Diversity fatigue is how I refer to the growing weariness felt by many staff when they hear they have to go through diversity training. Even individuals from underrepresented groups often place little hope or interest in diversity initiatives in the workplace. Research recently cited in the Harvard Business Review found that diversity programs did little to convince ethnic minorities that companies would treat them any more fairly than companies without the programs.

 

“The culturally intelligent are aware of how cultural differences influence the way team members approach a task.” –David Livermore

 

There are a variety of factors that contribute to diversity fatigue, several of which I explore more fully at the beginning of Driven by Difference. But the key to addressing this is for companies to take a more strategic approach to diversity. They need to address diversity the way they address other business opportunities and challenges—assess the situation, create a strategy, and form metrics for measuring accountability. If profits are slipping, companies don’t plan a “Profits Slipping Awareness Day” and then hope the awareness translates into better returns. It’s all hands on deck with everyone accountable. And then managers and teams need to be equipped with the skills to effectively use their differences to drive innovation.

 

“Smart, empowered teams are the best way to come up with successful products.” –David Livermore

 

In one chapter, you talk about focus and how the more personalities and cultures you have working together, the easier it is to lose focus. What’s the best way to experience the benefits of diverse thinking while also keeping focus?

It comes from clearly defining the goal (a key to retaining focus) while asking your diverse colleagues how they understand the goal. The goal may seem straightforward, such as reducing costs or improving efficiencies. However, the assumptions about how to most effectively reduce cost may be strongly influenced by one’s cultural values and assumptions. Focus comes from not quickly moving beyond the seemingly basic task of clarifying expectations and instead, using a diversity of expectations to more successfully achieve more innovative outcomes.

 

“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” –Malcolm Forbes

 

How to Build Trust With Diverse Colleagues

How Companies Can Overcome the Pitfalls of Globalization

Overcome the Pitfalls of Globalization

Does your company have global aspirations?

How do you determine which countries to pursue and which to avoid?

 

When growth stalls, many managers decide that the answer to the slowing metrics is in going global. In many instances, managers don’t appreciate the inherent risks, miss the cultural nuances, and miscalculate the legal costs of the lofty goals globalization requires.

Robert Salomon is a professor of International Management and Faculty Scholar at NYU’s Stern School of Business and has been teaching and studying the effects of globalization for nearly 20 years. His new book, Global Vision: How Companies Can Overcome the Pitfalls of Globalization, is a guide to successfully navigating the global marketplace.

As the CEO of a global business myself, I was intrigued by the lessons in the book and reached out to Robert to share some of his findings with you.

 

The Problem of Unbridled Optimism

Global Vision . CoverIn your book, you say that one of the biggest problems with globalization is managers and their unbridled optimistic attitude. How does this increase risk?

The problem is that managers systematically overestimate the benefits of globalization and underestimate its costs. They tend to believe that globalization is relatively easy, and they therefore overlook the economic, political, and cultural risks involved.

Many people cite Thomas Friedman’s book “The World is Flat” as an urgent call toward globalization. What’s usually wrong with this thinking?

More and more research suggests that the world is less global than Friedman suggests, and not just by a little, but by a lot. And so if managers base their views of globalization on Friedman’s work, they will end up making very dangerous assumptions about globalization’s risks and challenges.

Why is overestimating market potential so prevalent?

It is prevalent because managers tend to think that consumers will respond to their company’s products similarly in every market. They therefore believe that they can simply port their existing business model to global markets with little change. In this respect, they fail to recognize the challenges that culture—in the form of different consumer cultures—can place on their business model.

 

Strategic Mistake: Porting existing business models to global markets with little change.

 

Understanding the Importance of Culture

Your research led you to the conclusion that “culture is probably the least understood.” Tell us more about the importance of culture and its role.

Culture is the least well understood of all of globalization’s challenges because culture is difficult to define and measure. Is culture about language differences? Yes. Is culture about religious differences? Yes. Is culture about differences in behaviors, norms, customs, and social structure? Yes. But even if we recognize these differences across countries, they are difficult to quantify and measure. Because culture is difficult to quantify and measure, managers end up discounting its effect on globalization. In my book, Global Vision, I discuss how culture impacts globalization and also how managers can quantify the impact of culture on global companies.

 

Culture is the least understood of the challenges of global expansion.