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2D Diversity = Innovation

Author: Marizanne Knoesen

Ernst & Young report that diverse viewpoints lead to the necessary debates that can bring new ideas to life. The best-case scenario is that this will help to generate new products and services. But what is diversity and can it really lead to tangible results?

One way of looking at diversity is to define it as follows. Inherent diversity refers to your gender and ethnicity, determined in the womb. Acquired diversity, on the other hand, stems from experience e.g. someone who has worked in various countries is able to pick up on cultural nuances. In one study, company leaders who presented at least three inherent and three acquired diversity traits were characterised as having two-dimensional diversity. The results showed that 2-D diversity companies perform better and innovate more. Employees at these companies are 45% more likely to confirm that the firm’s market share increased when compared to the previous year. A lack of diversity often means that companies miss out on possible market opportunities as “diverse contributors understand the unmet needs in under-leveraged markets” (Harvard Business Review).  

It is clear that it makes business sense to invest in cultivating diverse teams and diverse thinking. By broadening horizons that can activate new neural pathways and facilitate creative thinking, you are adding towards your problem-solving toolkit. Just think how globalisation has given us access to more information and connected to us to people on the other side of the planet. Without globalisation it would have taken a lot longer to hear about the Finnish baby box. Back in the 1930’s the Finnish government started supplying new mothers with a box full of clothes, sheets and toys. The box is said to have played a role in decreasing Finland’s infant mortality rate.  Now, in 2015, the Thula Baba Box (inspired by the one in Finland, but with adaptations) is being piloted with the idea to supply mothers in South Africa’s Western Cape Province in 2016 and the rest of South Africa in the future. A perfect example of what a thought partnership can achieve. 

Apart from looking for inspiration in different geographic locations and cultures, one can also look in different sectors/academic fields. I was at a workshop a few months ago, where one of the two presenters was a Biomimicry professional. I have never heard of the term ever before, but ever since that day I look at the world differently. Biomimicry “is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies” ( Sounds good and well, I thought, but can it really have economic and social impact? Well, yes! Apparently Velcro came about after Swiss engineer George de Mestral’s dog was covered in burdock burrs. After microscopic investigation, Mestral discovered the design that informed one of our societal staples. More recently Stanford engineers have discovered that the necks of whooper swans and the way they manage to keep their heads still while flapping their wings could inform ‘better suspension systems for drone cameras that will supply much better video quality.’

If you think about it, there is just too much out there for one person to know. By building teams, consisting of people with different expertise, you are hypothetically decreasing the search costs when trying to find solutions in your quest to innovate. It took executives from many backgrounds and disciplines to get together and come up with an innovation in global commerce that has become the online B2B marketplace, INNOVO . In a truly global world, it seems like one-dimensional thinking is more of a risk than a reward. Can you really afford to disregard the evidence? 

 Image by Ryj (Own work)


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