Be Thankful For: Diversity and Dissent

by | Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

“A peaceful, harmonious workplace can be the worst possible thing for a business because it leads to complacency, the biggest predictor of poor company performance.”

– Harvard Business Review (“How to Pick a Good Fight,” December 2009).

While the Thanksgiving holiday is riddled with myths — a fairytale of friendly pilgrims dining with Indians — it’s a perfect time to reflect on diversity.

Diversity and dissent drive innovation. Successful companies embrace diverse perspectives and promote a systematic process of constructive criticism.

According to a September 2013 Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) study:

  • Companies that demonstrate leadership diversity are 70 percent more likely to capture a new market and 45 percent more likely to improve market share.
  • When companies encourage/reward diversity and dissent, employees are 3.5 times more likely (67 percent versus 16 percent) to contribute their full innovative potential.
  • Ideation teams are most successful when they mine a talent pool of people whose non-mainstream backgrounds lead to new interpretations and points of view.

Diversity and dissent light a fire to innovation because they increase perspective, improve problem-solving abilities, and boost potential for better solutions and big breakthroughs. They expand your set of the “adjacent possible” — what is possible next given existing conditions and knowledge. The GREATER the diversity of thought the better, according to the Diversity Prediction Theorem.

For this reason, RE:INVENTION’s team is comprised of a remote network of former Fortune 100 company execs, leading technologists, lean entrepreneurs, MBAs, educators, engineers, and design thinkers. When we conduct Innovation Incubation Labs for our Clients, our team’s diversity propels fresh thinking. And our team conducts feats of strength (ala George’s family on Seinfeld) during the holidays to facilitate tension.

Ok. So we don’t really do that last bit. Joe, our Business Intelligence and Technology Practice Leader, would win every time if we did (he competes in Iron Man competitions).

Want to create a company culture of diversity and dissent? Deloitte’s 2013 “Diversity Report” recommends: hiring with debate in mind, giving employees permission to disagree, sponsoring reverse mentorship programs, shifting to team-based evaluation, and rewarding successes that are a result of diversity (and divergent thinking).

Do you agree or disagree?

If you are interested in diversity training, consider this online course from noted University of Michigan professor Scott Page. For the record, I really like today’s blog image featuring two sparring turkeys. What did one turkey say to the other? Nothing. Because turkeys can’t talk.

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