Summary: We normally talk about diversity as a social, ethical and cultural issue. Seldom do we put diversity in the same sentence as innovation, let alone equate the two. But if we dig deep enough, we realize that innovation is not possible on a consistent basis without systemic diversity. Innovation is brought about by ‘thiking differently’ and by thinking outside a given box of assumptions. How can we think differently unless there are people with different viewpoints around the table? While it is possible to imagine that people with similar life background, cultural makup, education paths and worldviews can be trained to think differently from each other for sometime, it is difficult to sustain such a dynamic for obvious reasons. In a similar vein, it is possible for people from vastly different cultural backgrounds and life experiences can be taught to think the same way (conform) for sometime, but difficult to prevent them from thinking differently on a sustainable basis. I hope the central premise of my argument is clear enough. Innovation is NOT possible on a consistent basis without true and systemic diversity. Of course, diversity alone does not guarantee innovation, nor is it easy to build systemic diversity without falling into the trap of “prosthetic additions” of few diverse individuals as tokens. The economic, regulatory and political environments define whether innovation is permitted to take root or not. Assuming conditions are comparable, places with diversity outshine places without diversity by any measure of innovation productivity: patents generated, startup companies created, disruptive innovations heralded, value created for stake holders, etc. Emerging research in these areas is intriguing.
Just as many people have argued recently, including Thomas Friedman, innovation is a dire necessity to address the puzzling global challenges of the emerging world. I will add to that urgency by stating that diversity is also a dire necessity from the perspective of innovation. First diversity, then innovation. For more about this lecture, please click the link below and read the report.