Why diversity powers creativity and collaboration

Frazer Bennett

By Frazer Bennett

Hands down, the best thing about working for PA is the variety. Not just the variety of the challenges and opportunities we get involved with, but the variety of people we get to work with. It’s this very variety that powers innovation.

Today, for the first time in history, we have five generations working side-by-side in the workplace. And this brings even greater variety of thought, background and outlook. Effective leaders today actively promote diversity of thought, deliberately mixing up teams, pulling people of different backgrounds and perspectives together to create dissonance – a creative environment where no one’s afraid to challenge ideas.

Embrace difference to power innovation video still
Embrace difference to power innovation

At PA, we believe in the power of ingenuity to build a positive human future. And we know that ingenuity demands a different perspective. We’re often tasked with coming up with new ideas. Take our work with Monica Healthcare, a manufacturer of innovative medical devices. Together we’ve saved the lives of thousands of babies by developing a foetal heart rate monitor that lets doctors review data from mothers and babies remotely. We pulled together a diverse team, including experts in product design, engineering and life sciences, as well as midwives and mothers. The diversity of perspectives in this group was critical to creating something that mothers would actually use.

So, how do organisations harness this powerful opportunity? Well, we’ve found the most innovative organisations focus on three key areas to foster diversity of thought.

1. Don’t be afraid to create friction

Working in diverse teams often leads to friction. But we find it’s this friction that sparks innovation. And we’re not alone. Alex Gorsky, Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson and Chair of the Business Roundtable Corporate Governance Committee, said in 2018 that his company “has learned through 132 years of experience that true innovation is seldom the work of solitary genius. Rather, it is the result of collaboration enriched by diverse opinions, approaches and experiences.”

So, if you want a better outcome and want to create an environment where new ideas can form, you need to create and manage tension. You must focus on goal harmony, not team harmony.

2. Ensure people can find your purpose

As younger generations move into the workforce, we’re seeing how purpose drives them much more than salary and benefits. So, there’s never been a better time for organisations to define their purpose. And central to that purpose is inclusion and diversity.

Take cosmetics brand L’Oréal, an organisation that’s won numerous awards for its commitment to inclusion and diversity. The organisation launched employee-driven think tanks to help promote workforce diversity. It’s no surprise that L’Oréal was included in LinkedIn’s 2018 ‘Top Companies’ list, which spotlights companies that attract and retain top talent.

3. Inspire and promote creativity in future generations

By applying the insights and perspectives of the broadest set of people, organisations can create the best possible future. In our innovation research, we found that 78 per cent of successful organisations have executive and leadership teams with a diverse range of skills and professional backgrounds. These teams don’t come together by accident. It requires a laser-sharp focus on finding the right talent. And the organisations who focus on inspiring the next generation now will benefit greatly.

We’ve seen this type of inspiration come to life in our Raspberry Pi competition, where we challenge young people to formulate ingenious ideas to solve big social issues. For our latest competition – our seventh annual gathering – we challenged teams from schools and colleges to produce innovations that will transform travel and transport.

Another example of inspiring the next generation is our summer internship programme at our Global Innovation and Technology Centre, which gives inspiring innovators hands-on experience with some of our most exciting work.

Victoria Cheung, one of this years’ interns, explained what makes the PA internship programme so valuable: “It gave me the opportunity to work and learn alongside different capability groups. I’ve developed my interdisciplinary skills by applying what I know to different technical situations.”

Seek inspiration in surprising places

We recognise that the future we’re moving towards is diverse. So, now is the time to mix it up. Go out of your way to seek the opinion of others – those that you wouldn’t normally. Seek inspiration from the widest variety of sources. Surprise yourself. I guarantee it will be worth it.

About the authors

Frazer Bennett
Frazer Bennett PA Chief Innovation Officer

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