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

Lessons from My Brother, Jack

Lessons from Jack

A year ago today, I lost my only brother, Jack.


“For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.” -Khalil Gibran


I found myself in shock. Unexpected deaths don’t come with a handbook. You think you’re good at compartmentalizing until an event like this upends your normal routine.

One evening, I went to bed thinking I would be in meetings all the next day. Instead, I was helping with funeral arrangements, making flight reservations, and trying to make sense of it all. My mom asked me to give a eulogy. Since I give speeches all over the world, you would think I could string some sentences together. I couldn’t seem to get it together. Finally, I was inspired and able to honor him in the way I wanted to.

JackDays later, I found myself reading an autopsy report. We’ve all watched the crime shows. I’m a lawyer and had my share of exposure to evidence and how it all works. It’s so different when it is about someone you love. Reading the cold facts about his body felt like getting pushed underwater in a freezing cold lake—which I thought of, instantly transporting me back to our neighborhood lake where Jack would do that very thing every summer. Dunked, again. Memories flood in like pictures or the sound of his voice so real that I look up.

Jack had a colorful, interesting, crazy and somewhat difficult life. Not until we were adults did we learn Jack had been abused as a kid. Though he never faced the perpetrator in court, others did, and he was locked up. That had a profound effect on him. He struggled with addictions; though he was clear of all of that when he died. Cause of death was perhaps rooted in that past, weakening his heart. I may have read the report, but life and death remains a mystery beyond our current scientific explanation. God still has power beyond man’s ability to understand.

We shared a room together for all of childhood. We shared that room with many others who would stop or stay in our family home. As kids, we shared bunk beds. Jack would lay there at night, asking deep philosophical questions about life. I still hear those questions echo in my mind some nights, as I lie awake.


“A brother shares childhood memories and grown up dreams.” -Anonymous


Power of OppositesJack

Jack and I were known as opposites in the family. Others defined us that way, too. It seemed to work for us. My mom always said I was born 50. Jack alternated between 5 and 15 his whole life. I wanted to fit in. Jack wanted to stand out. I looked for answers. Jack asked questions. In those days, Jack would buy 45’s. We were sort of like those albums. I would say Jack was the first and main song, and I was on the back, but that wouldn’t be right because Jack would find the coolest songs no one heard of on the back, flipping it around and sharing it with everyone. He was definitely way cooler.

Though we were very different, we were brothers. Here are just a few of the many lessons I learned from my brother:


Don’t be so quick to judge.

Jack had deep pain. He could irritate you to your limit and then push past that. But, then he would switch to be the kindest person you ever met.

“When we judge, we lose the opportunity to learn from a life different than ours.” -Skip Prichard


Don’t waste time.

Life is short. Don’t waste it on what doesn’t matter, on people who don’t care, and on things you will forget.

“A man who dares to waste an hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” -Charles Darwin