Mitra Best | US Innovation Leader, PwC
While diversity usually suggests differences in race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and physical abilities, consider how these attributes may be linked to innovation. Imagine these features to embody different experiences, different perspectives, and different skills, and the connection becomes more apparent.
Every day we are inundated with massive amounts of data. We use our filters to select and shape this information into meaningful knowledge. Our filters develop over time and are based on our experiences –leading to personal assumptions and defining our prediction models. When confronted with problems, we search for solutions based on these filters.
Naturally, we attract people with similar filters — people who think and behave like us. After all, why should we complicate matters with opposing ideas or conflicting points of view?
Yet dissonance can lead to new perspectives and limitless possibilities. Innovation results from a renewal, reinvention or creative reinterpretation of an idea, product, or service, or a completely new application of an existing tool or methodology. A truly diverse team will by definition produce differing perspectives. If we are able to constructively leverage this tension of opinions to explore fresh ideas, we can drive strategic innovation and advance new business models.
Innovative companies such as Google (GOOG), Toyota (TM) and 3M (MMM ), believe diversity to be an invaluable ingredient that leads to sustainable competitive advantage. These companies have long recognized the value of cross functional collaboration and understand that a diverse workforce is a contributing factor to their highly coveted successes.
When we are exposed only to people who agree with us, we continue to operate within our own realm of experience, perspective, and skills. Unquestioned assumptions remain unquestioned and it becomes more difficult to generate new ideas — even if we gather the brightest people from the most sophisticated institutions.
I’ve spent several years working in Silicon Valley where the diversity of brain power conveyed in the breadth of engineers, social scientists, mathematicians, physical scientists and other professionals from varied academic disciplines and different parts of the world contributes to its cache as a technology innovation hotspot.
Today we see the economic benefits of a diverse workforce which by its very nature creates new and innovative value in the marketplace. We should challenge ourselves to think of diversity beyond “tolerance” or “acceptance” and begin recognizing diversity as a critical component of innovation and competitive advantage.