Cultural diversity – Good for innovation, great for business


By Aish Murali, intern and award-winning innovation management student, &us

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Cultural diversity is talked about a lot in social media, in terms of business and relationships, but it’s not discussed enough when it comes to innovation. Cultural diversity directly contributes to innovation and provides a platform for diverse thoughts and ideas to seep into an organisation.

According to the London Annual Business Survey 2019, businesses run by culturally diverse leadership teams are more likely to develop new products than those with homogenous leadership.

Are you wondering how?

Let me start with an example, rewinding back 2 years ago, I was one of those international students stepping into London, a city filled with mult-nationals and diverse groups. Our cohort was unique and the students on my course were chosen because of the diversity they offered in terms of culture and expertise. We had students ranging from designers and dancers to business managers and lawyers. In terms of cultural difference, we had a great mix of students from all over the world. China, Hong Kong, Colombia, Miami and India to name a few.

In no time, we started to build connections with other students and share knowledge. Having the whole, first year to work in groups, boosted this process even more. It made us step out of our comfort zones and talk to different people. While we are subconsciously wired to stick to groups we are comfortable in most of the time, we crossed the language barriers and connected more innately, socialised better and learned about each other’s experiences. This was very important in our journey of Innovation management. Every time we had a project to work on, it was the breadth of background and perspective that made the solution strong. Comparing notes on the stories we grew up hearing, this always made the project a lot more interesting and exciting to work on, and helped us discover new ways of solving the problems and facing the challenges together.

It made me rethink ideas, and learn new methods and which books or research papers couldn’t give me. Diversity in teams gives you a different lens each time to view the same problem. It helps build an innovative platform. It triggers the process for exchange of diverse ideas and thoughts for self reflection and growth.

When it’s easy to put innovation in a box filled with frameworks, structures, processes etc, the real challenge lies in building an environment to facilitate that. To make it happen! And to appreciate it. Cultural diversity is the key to unlock potentials and take innovation a step further. Non- homogeneous teams are simply smarter. Working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance. They constantly let us challenge our assumptions.

And in your own business, it’s a competitive advantage when so many organisations — even now — don’t care. According to a research from the Boston Consulting Group (July 2017), Companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity — 45% of total revenue versus just 26%.

Additionally, the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey shows that 74% of individuals believe their organization is more innovative when it has a culture of inclusion. Do you need more proof?

2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey

At its heart, innovation is about change, and cultural diversity is a key component of change. But you need to do the work. Reassess your recruitment approach NOW. Insist recruiters you work with work harder to bring you a diverse set of candidates and challenge your hardwired assumptions about people. The success of your business depends on it.

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