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Fuel Innovation Through Diversity

American entrepreneur Malcom Forbes once described diversity as “the art of thinking independently together.” But, what if we end up thinking independently apart?

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Adding diversity to your company’s strategy doesn’t guarantee more innovative thinking. David Livermore, author of Driven by Difference, explains that diversity can cause tension and arguments rather than creativity if you don’t implement it properly.

Fortunately, Livermore offers a remedy to this diversity conundrum: cultural intelligence (CQ). To reap the benefits of a diverse workforce, teach your staffers to connect and work well with other cultures.

“Cultural diversity provides one of the greatest opportunities for global innovation. The potential is enormous. But it’s a correlation, not causation.”

Skip the cultural awareness workshops, Livermore recommends. Those focus too much on cultural stereotypes and awareness of participants’ own backgrounds. Instead, nurture in your people an eagerness to learn and an attitude that is respectful and appreciative of different values and opinions.

Four CQ capabilities can lead your organization toward better innovation:

  1. CQ Drive– This capability embodies a person’s passion to learn about different cultures and a readiness to adapt to multicultural situations.
  2. CQ Knowledge– This element is crucial in understanding and appreciating the differences between cultures.
  3. CQ Action– This skill represents one’s ability to adapt to different cultures and to use a team’s diversity to one’s advantage.
  4. CQ Strategy– This capability stands for a person’s awareness of the various viewpoints a diverse workforce brings and the ability to plan inclusive interactions.

Develop an Innovative Culture

To grow an innovative culture within your firm, Livermore stresses, leaders must be open to reinvention. CEOs must officially call for innovation and ensure that the organization implements the necessary changes. Leaders should encourage creativity within their workforce. Give your employees the space and freedom to think about innovation – in front of their desks or while going for a walk. Innovation must be on their minds to come to fruition.

Livermore’s five-stage process can help your company fuel innovation through CQ:

  1. Define– Clearly outline an issue, opportunity or objective. Ensure your staffers know your company’s values and goals.
  2. Dream– Diverse ideas are the product of diverse teams. A diverse workforce is able to come up with better ideas and more innovative solutions than a homogenous one. Leaders must be in charge of brainstorming, open question sessions and meetings.
  3. Decide– Apply the same principles to selling as you would to creating innovative ideas and products. Find out what your customers like and make sure you mention those components in your discussions.
  4. Design– Consider the viewpoints of your customers when designing your products and services and include what’s important to them whenever possible. Leverage your diverse team’s knowledge of your customer’s values and needs.
  5. Deliver– Teams should be open to different perspectives and embrace them. They should also appoint a clear leader and insist on senior management’s support when it comes to bringing ideas and innovation to fruition.

It takes a combination of collaboration, trust, transparency and respect to reach the “holy grail of innovation.” To simplify CQ and make innovation successful, the author recommends urging employees to see similarities between themselves and their co-workers. This, in turn, will allow them to understand their team members’ perspectives, exchange their points of view and, as a result, come up with solutions that stem from various different ideas and work well for everybody.

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