Innovation is the key to staying relevant, differentiating your brand and gaining competitive advantage, but who is consistently driving innovation in the corporate world?
The new state of affairs can be daunting. I don’t envy the work of talent acquisition teams. Stakeholders and business partners struggle to define the skill sets required, and, even when there is a clear mandate and job description, it can be so hard to find talented innovators that create real value and impact amid all the hype, fluff and buzzwords.
The driving forces of innovation are human behavior, advancements in technology and economic viability, but for real, tangible innovation that creates and captures new value in new ways, diversity is crucial.
See also: Innovation Happens at the Edge
Diversity is two-dimensional: inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity is associated with "who we are", i.e. the personality type we are born with, our gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Acquired diversity is about "how we behave" as a result of what we’ve learned and experienced. It consists of our mental models and mindsets developed over time.
For example, I’m a Persian Hebrew, straight, woman with a commanding personality. Being a third culture child and having lived around the world, I am home everywhere and nowhere at all. My natural desire to grow, expand and explore leads me to travel, taking on eclectic responsibilities and experiences. I embrace the differences in people and connect the dots among those differences to achieve exciting outcomes, that continue to build trust and value in the digital age and expand the realm of the possible. But I am a rare breed.
Two-dimensional diversity creates a powerful dynamic at work between diverse leaders and teams who know how to unlock each other's contributions. Inherently diverse people bring to the team an understanding of unmet needs in underleveraged markets. People with acquired diversity bring fresh perspectives, mindsets and notions that are globally relevant and connect to a wider consumer base.
It takes leaders with inherent and acquired diversity to establish a "speak-up culture," which is essential in unleashing the innovative capacity of the team to its fullest. By giving equal airtime to diverse voices, these leaders are more likely than non-inclusive leaders to derive value creating insights. They ensure all members of the team get constructive feedback and support to extract breakthrough ideas. Listening to contrarian input and taking corrective actions that alter the course, they are more likely to arrive at effective solutions.
Creating a culture of innovation is important for great ideas to translate to market share. As with any form of change, transformation of culture requires catalysts. In my experience, that means a vertically diverse workforce with strategic leadership that creates alignment to the vision. Research shows that executives must both embrace and embody the power of differences. After all, innovation stems from the collective genius of diverse teams managed by leaders who value perspectives and approaches outside their own experience or expertise.
See also: Innovation: Not Just for the Big Firms
I am dedicating this article to one such leader : Derek Low, executive vice president, Liberty Mutual, a humble and passionate leader whom I respect, look up to, learn from and admire professionally.
Shahzadi Jehangir is an innovation leader and expert in building trust and value in the digital age, creating scalable new businesses generating millions of dollars in revenue each year, with more than $10 million last year alone.