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Diversity Drives Disruptive Innovation

08 Oct 2020

Diversity diversifies your brand's cognitive portfolio, and the numbers show us that diversity has a statistically significant relationship with innovation output.

If your workforce is not diverse, you are paying a penalty as a company. 

On the eve of a 2020 US election set against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter, political polarisation, cancel culture, racial discrimination and wokeness, the dialogue about diversity has never been more important.

While I hope that in the future race will be a non-issue just like hair colour is a non-issue today (for example we don't get have quotas or special awareness of the hair colour diversity in our workplaces), we have not arrived at that point yet. Whether it is the extreme left or the extreme right, identity politics are rife. Societal structures, norms and unconscious biases still exist. Sadly. In some organisations the comfortable clone syndrome (recruiting someone in your own image) is still a primary driver of recruitment practices.

My futurist forefather, Alvin Toffler, once said that: "The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn".

What does this say about those leaders and organisations who keep fostering homogenous cultures and workplaces ('the way it has always been done around here')?

Let us zoom out for a minute. While homogeneity might feel familiar and comfortable, and you'd prima facie think it might make for better functioning teams is this homogenous sameness good for business? The answer is no. Last week I spoke at the Shelton Leadership Forum at North Carolina State University on The Future of Leadership, and one of the main points I made for future-proofing yourself and your brand is to 'diversify your cognitive portfolio'. 

What is my reasoning and what data is there to support the upsides to this diversification? [Check out the short diversity & innovation video below]



The future of HR is not just about HR (human resources). It is also about AR (artificial resources). Increasingly we will be rewarded for how well we interface and collaborate with these artificial resources. But in the meantime, we still have to collaborate with other flesh and bones humans. Humans who may not think or look like you. And the good news is that while hearable, wearable, and implantable technology can augment us as humans and amplify both our brawns and our brains, other humans can do the same. We can augment our human capital through diversification. 

Diversity and Innovation Futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson

Let us have a look at some diversification stats below:

Diversity and Innovation Futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson


Diversity drives profit, growth and innovation. In a COVID crisis, why aren't more companies heeding the call for diversity? Diversity is not just the right thing to do from an anti-discrimination and ESG perspective, it is also the right thing to do from a shareholder perspective. 


Diversity and Innovation Futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson


The Boston Consulting Group and the Technical University of Munich researched the relationship between diversity and innovation in Swiss, German and Austrian companies and found that the relationship is both positive and statistically significant. Innovation revenue (the percentage of revenue from new products / services invented in the last 3 year period) was higher the more diverse the company was on the Blau Index of Diversity. Oftentimes, we are brought in to help organisations boost their innovation culture, and what is the first question I ask do you think?

How diversified is your team?

Additionally, companies with the highest level of digital investment exhibited the strongest link between diversity and innovation revenue. In an era of digital disruption and digital transformation, the investment in a diverse workforce should be a no-brainer. On top of that, having a high percentage of female managers is positively correlated with a firm creating disruptive innovation

People who are not like us (optically or cognitively) augment us. Yes, we might find each other a bit more challenging to work and collaborate with at times. But that is doing us a service, it turns out. 

Diversity and Innovation Futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson


Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in a way that sameness doesn't.

Studies from the Oklahoma State University show that when research subjects were asked to prepare an analytical essay and they knew the audience would consist of people who disagreed with their conclusion and they were of the opposite political affiliation the essay author worked both harder and smarter. Democrats who were told they would present to another Democrat who disagreed with them prepared less well. Republicans did the same. But when it comes to trying to win the hearts and minds of a tough audience who disagrees with your analysis and is also of an opposing political view, we prepare better. Diverse people help augment us. Sameness seems lazy in the extreme. 


Why would you not want to create these positive outcomes as a leader?


People work harder, smarter, and drive more innovation revenue when part of a diversified company that recognises and foster the different cognitive styles of their talent pool. So take a long hard look at yourself and your team in the mirror and notice how homogenous / heterogenous you are. Then, dig deeper and canvas the cognitive firepower of your team by using a tool like the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument to explore how diversified your cognitive portfolio is, and where your blindspots for the future might be. 


To learn more about inclusive leadership to drive diversity and innovation, download the leadership guide below and if you want to explore a diversity and innovation program with Thinque, please reach out today. 

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