|IN BRIEF: Diversity is the crucial element for group creativity, according to Beth Comstock in an article published by the Harvard Business School. A growing body of research suggests that diversity in the workplace not only helps companies stay in tune with their customers, but also adds to the diversity of ideas and attitudes.|
The world's increasing globalisation requires more interaction among people from diverse cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds than ever before. People no longer live and work in an insular marketplace; they are now part of a worldwide economy with competition coming from nearly every continent.
According to Comstock, innovative teams tasked with creating new products or technologies rely on ‘tension’ to produce breakthroughs. This tension often comes from diverse points of view rather than having culturally-similar people with “too much agreement and too similar perspectives” that often paralyses broader thinking.
Teams like these are characterised by consensus coming quickly, and only later, when they fail and wonder why, they realise that the easy agreements and shared conclusions doomed them from the start.
For this reason, assembling and managing diverse teams is crucial, but is often hard work. The tension that is essential to creativity is tough to manage and requires strong leadership. The manager must ensure that sometimes sharp disagreements are aired without degenerating into the kinds of arguments that cause communication and relationship break-downs.
Comstock challenges those in managerial positions to take a challenge your team is currently facing and set up an informal meeting with a harsh critic, someone who often disagrees with your point of view. Comstock stresses that “critics challenge assumptions and are usually very passionate” so by inviting them in and hearing them out, you may be surprised by how much you learn. It is important to think about a problem from a different perspective as this can refresh and energise your team’s ideas. “In the best case scenario,” Comstock says, “your harsh critic is now your teammate, and not incidentally, will own the particular issue you asked them about.”
Turning a critic into a passionate advocate and supporter is a great goal in innovation.
The challenges faced in the workplace are often too complicated for any one approach — integrating diverse perspectives from within and even from outside the company is key to solving them with new breakthroughs.