True innovation only happens when everyone has a voice

An important success factor for today’s success is diversity.

There are quite a few different understandings of the term “diversity”. Some may think of gender while others may think of ethnicity, educational background, or religion.

When we talk about diversity, we will cover the whole range of social and personal heterogeneity. This includes the most obvious categories mentioned before, but also very fine-grained personality profiles. To build a really diverse team or organization, their members should bring in all those different personality traits like intro- vs. extroversion, rational thinkers vs. those listening to their intuition, specialists vs. generalists, and so on. Those traits are distributed across those first-level diversity features like age and gender.

True diversity is important 💡

Network theory has argued and found out that open and heterogeneous networks are a key factor for the overall and individual ability to make use of creative advantages. The more structural holes a network provides, the more heterogeneous the knowledge and perspectives of the people in an individual’s network, the higher the chance of innovation and disruption to happen. Those happenings are also called productive accidents in which differing opinions or behaviors collide to produce a good idea [1][2].

If networks are stable, the people in those networks will over time tend to become more homogenous in their experiences and their ways of thinking, thus limiting the possibility for innovation and disruption to happen. To ensure that knowledge flows seamlessly across people, teams, and divisions, teams must be diverse and networks need to be less stable, thus offering structural holes and brokerage of diverse connections across networks [3].

It takes organizational effort to make diversity take effect 🤝🏻

In teams that became homogenous over time, it is a suitable way to “shock” those teams by introducing new people with a background different from those existing in the team [4]. It has been shown that the introduction of new people also means the introduction of new knowledge, skills, and ways of thinking - which are key factors for disruption to happen. It is important to break silos in your organization. It takes a certain amount of (self-)leadership to prevent clustering and entropy effects to happen: Without organizational effort, diverse people in your organization will tend to form homogenous groups while those groups will stay far apart from each other. Those groups are called silos where the positive effects of diversity won’t happen. This has been observed particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic where spontaneous meetings in the office haven’t happened since most knowledge workers stayed at home offices [5]. Those spontaneous encounters are essential for diversity to take effect. A recent study found that some of the (positive and negative) quota effects actually take place even in environments without explicit quotas. This leads to the insight that implicit quotas actually exist and are sometimes inevitable, thus it may be a good choice to opt-in for explicit quotas so organizations can have an instrument to control efforts to increase diversity precisely instead of letting those effects do their work without any control [6].

Give everyone a voice 🎤

Brokerage is an important factor to minimize the trade-off between information novelty and flow [7]. It is not sufficient to just build up teams with a high level of diversity if you do not give everyone a voice. As a leader, you should know your team members well and support each one according to their respective personalities. For example, you should create space for more introverted people to think about their answers so they and their knowledge and opinions can be recognized even in a surrounding of more impulsive extroverts. It is important to remember that empowerment means to adjust the environment of your employees so everyone can participate, not to enforce your employees to act in a way that does not correspond to their nature. The latter will, in the long term, lead to disappointment and a less productive and in the worst-case toxic environment for you, your employees, and your customers.

Literature

[1] Burt, R. S. (2004). Structural holes and good ideas. American journal of sociology, 110(2), 349-399.

[2] Lingo, E. L., & O’Mahony, S. (2010). Nexus work: Brokerage on creative projects. Administrative science quarterly, 55(1), 47-81.

[3] Soda, G. B., Mannucci, P. V., & Burt, R. (2021). Networks, creativity, and time: staying creative through brokerage and network rejuvenation. Academy of Management Journal. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2019.1209

[4] Menon, T. (2017). The secret to great opportunities? The person you haven’t met yet . TEDxOhioStateUniversity. https://www.ted.com/talks/tanya_menon_the_secret_to_great_opportunities_the_person_you_haven_t_met_yet

[5] Larson, J., Zuzul, T., Cox Pahnke, E., Parikh Shah, N., Bourke, P., Caurvina, N., … & Priebe, C. E. (2021). Dynamic Silos: Modularity in intra-organizational communication networks before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/dynamic-silos-modularity-in-intra-organizational-communication-networks-before-and-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

[6] Janys, L. (2020). Evidence for a two-women quota in university departments across disciplines.

[7] Aral, S., & Van Alstyne, M. (2011). The diversity-bandwidth trade-off. American journal of sociology, 117(1), 90-171.


Written by
Christian Konrad
Web Developer, Product Manager and UI Designer in Frankfurt a. Main, Germany. My specialization is generalization.