Diversity, Innovation and Value Creation

Foto: Markus Spiske

Foto: Markus Spiske

When I was a young student, I chose to follow my dream and travel around the world. Not only was it a fantastic experience – it was also an eye-opener that taught me a great deal about diversity and different perspectives. While I traveled around in different countries and met other cultures, my own culture and beliefs and everything I learnt to believe as I grew up, have been challenged and tested. I saw a million new ways to live a life, and just as many ways to perceive and assess a situation. Young and curious, I got endless opportunities to ask questions and listen. I learnt a great deal and expanded my view on the realms of possibility in many areas of life. I would say it made me more humble and careful about owning the truth.

We all know the saying “Birds of a feather flock together”. And we might all have experienced that it is easier to relate to people who are relatively like us. It is also quite efficient, because it does not take long to understand each other and come to an agreement. This tends to be true in a workplace as well as in a board room. The backside is that it limits our ability to consider different perspectives, and see the full scope of opportunities. Luckily, this can be addressed, if we deliberately strive for diversity. But how do we ensure that we get the real value from diversity? How do we facilitate value creation based on diversity? And what can diversity be composed of?

Diversity has lately been in focus when recruiting for board positions. However, it is not enough to have diversity in the board composition alone. To be serious about it, we need to make sure that the board members keep an open mind and are curious to learn what lies behind the opinions and statements that are different from our own, thus expanding our perspectives and ability to embrace different views. The chair of the board obviously has an important role to play in this, together with the formal facilitation (Read also How Important is the Relationship between the COB and the CEO).

If we manage to get the best out of a diverse team, and use it to challenge and expand our way of thinking, then we can achieve true innovation and substantially level up the game. We will notice how the scope of opportunity widens and how the ability to innovate and think bigger is spreading to other areas. This is how to establish a new mindset that gives enormous possibilities to create and make decisions that add value.

Diversity in a workplace has mostly been focusing on culture, ethnicity, age, and gender. But if we think diversity in a broader sense, how about considering different industries, expert areas, backgrounds and ways of working? It is easy to recruit someone from the same industry. Maybe we should dare to recruit across industries and areas of expertise? Putting together top candidates with various business backgrounds can make a powerful team. Some newly established companies have succeeded with this and can show great results. Combining medicine and technology is one of the known examples. Take for example “Pumps and Pipes”, a company that has managed to combine expertise from medicine, airspace, and energy to create something completely new and truly unique. This is real innovation that levels up the game.

What are your experiences with getting the most out of diversity, in business and in the board room? Do we manage to put together great teams based on diversity? Do we open our minds to listen to the whole team and then compile the arguments to take the best decision? Or do we exercise our power and own the truth, risking to lose the face if we change our mind? Do we manage to achieve that 1 + 1 = at least 3? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

More articles about Board work: Musicality in the Board Room, The Art of Simplifying Complexity.