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Think of workplace diversity as a kaleidoscope
“There is no such thing as a new idea,” Mark Twain is quoted as saying. “It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
There’s something to Twain’s words. For example, we can look at current energy storage tech and argue everything is a modern take on the Baghdad Battery, estimated to be some 2,000 years old. Or, we can look at how people in 200-300 B.C. leveraged mirrors or glass with the sun’s power to create fires and conclude all solar power concepts are old tech renewed. Obviously, energy innovations have come a considerable way since these tools were used, but the premise is the same. Our ideas aren’t necessarily new. We cultivate fresh ideas, just as Twain says, by twisting and turning old ones. However, if we want to enhance the “new and curious combinations” we create, then we need to we add more colors and shapes to our kaleidoscopes. We need diversity.
People of diverse backgrounds offer different solutions
Each person is exposed to different ideas throughout their lifetime, so the combinations the person can create through twisting and turning the ideas are limited to what that specific individual has seen. If you bring in one person to contribute blue specks to the kaleidoscope, you’ll have a wealth of combinations, but they’ll all be blue. If you bring in another person with the same background, they’ll contribute blue specks to the kaleidoscope too. Perhaps you’ll have new shapes and concepts, but you’re still limited to blue. You’ll need people to bring in red and yellow specks before the full spectrum is represented.
Diverse teams work the same way. The more differences you include, the more unique solutions you’ll uncover. Men and women will contribute different solutions, as will people of different races, nationalities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and so forth.
We share our thoughts more in diverse groups
We intrinsically know that people who are dissimilar to us don’t possess the same information we have. Researchers have studied this and found that, when people are in groups made up of people like them, they don’t share information as much. Regardless of whether it’s true or not, they subconsciously believe that all others in the group already know what they know. When groups are diversified, people share more information.
Going back to the kaleidoscope metaphor, it’s easy to see how diversity leads to innovation. We’re simply twisting and turning the information we possess to create new ideas. The more exposure we have to old ideas, the more innovative we become.
We challenge our own thought processes more in diverse groups
One other interesting phenomenon occurs in diverse groups. Not only do we think others don’t possess the same information we have, but we subconsciously expect those who differ from us to have an opposing viewpoint. This is an accurate assessment. For example, a woman who pitches an idea is 20% less likely as a man to have that idea endorsed when her leadership team is not diverse. That’s not great news because lots of companies are therefore missing out on innovative ideas, but it has a profound impact on those with pioneering thoughts too. We don’t just pitch our ideas in diverse groups; we pick apart our own ideas, try to debunk them, and formulate stronger ideas in advance of the pitch to ensure buy-in from the group, making us even more innovative in the process.
Diverse organizations demonstrate greater innovation across many areas
Research shows that organizations with diversity produce twice as many product releases and request more patents than their counterparts. Plus, D&I impacts productivity, talent acquisition, talent retention, employee satisfaction, and a wealth of other areas that contribute to stronger, more profitable organizations.
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