Saturday, 1 September 2007

Diversity drives innovation - notes from this week's diversity symposium

I had such a great time at Thursday's Diversity Symposium, where I was the guest (thanks very much) of the EEO Trust, who put the event on.

Keynote speaker was Frans Johansson, who's well-qualified to speak about diversity, being part Afro-American, part Cherokee and part Swedish. He's the author of the book The Medici Effect.

Without further ado, my notes from Frans' presentation:

  • All new ideas are combinations of old ideas.
  • Some combinations aren't that exciting; eg spider + web. Big deal.
  • But what about spider + goat's milk? Strange, huh? Explore connections between the two and you actually get some of the material they make bulletproof vests out of.
  • Far apart ideas and cultures look at the same things differently -> creativity -> innovation
Then he looked at the characteristics of organisations and teams who create great ideas:
  • Corning Glass - the world's biggest glass provider - develops 4000 products a year; about 2% go to market.
  • Prince has about 1000 unreleased songs in his vault - they're not good enough for him to release.
  • You have to have lots of ideas to get the good ideas.
  • The most innovative teams fail the most. (Interestingly, I was hearing much the same thing in ResearchTalk's interview on excellence while waiting for the train Thurs. morning!)
  • Diverse teams generate more ideas.
Then he had a really cool example from the world of music: Tubular Bells.
  • If you were a rock musician in the 70s and you wanted to do something different, how many variables do you have? There are about 2400 combinations with traditional rock band equipment, chords and vocal styles.
  • And if you're a classical musician, you've got about 2400 different combinations to create a new piece of classical music.
  • Or you could mash them together like Mike Oldfield, who made an album that stayed at number one for something like 15 weeks!
And now some facts and figures from the world of business:
  • hp's quantum lab has 32 scientists from 13 different countries, and 13 disciplines. And no rules!
  • Took them 2 years to get established and working together as a team - but once they'd figured out which language to speak (!) they got to be one of the most productive research labs in the USA.
Then a few pieces of advice, supported by examples:
  • Find inspiration from fields and cultures other than your own - and dare to explore the connections.
  • Redefine what you do.
  • How to be number one: make a new category.
  • Combine curiosity, no fear and ideas.
  • Deliberately staff for innovation - different:
    • experiences
    • approaches
    • concepts
    • traditions
  • Diversity by design.
  • Example: L'Oreal - a French company with a British CEO - launched a hair product for African-American women (why didn't an American company do that?). They accidentally discovered a market of 1 billion people worldwide - all those women with African-origin hair, found in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe!
  • Example: Frit-o-lay had an affinity group (self-formed group of people with something in common) of Hispanics who recommended a guacamole-flavoured chip. In its first year it earned $100 million. Ees nice!
  • Ignite an explosion of ideas by selecting specific groups.
  • Eg Volvo had a concept car designed by all-female engineers. It had - among other things - a side hatch to fill up your washer fluid, instead of having to open the bonnet (or hood). Good only for women? Nah, great for everyone. Diversity drives innovation.
  • Intesect ideas from your global offices.
  • Example Cummins makes generators but makes profit from service. Good in Europe and US but in China there's no infrastructure, so they had to make their generators better so they won't need servicing so much. Ended up thrashing the competition and changing the business model!
Then Frans showed us a graph which showed that homogenous teams get productive straight away, but plateau after a while. Meanwhile, diverse teams take a while to get going but go on to outperform homogenous teams.

"The single most important leadership quality is to move the [time to get productive] to the left (of the graph - in other words to get productive , faster)"

Man there's so much great stuff here, I'm going to have to do another post shortly. Time for tea now!

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