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?
CQ, 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