How to become a leader who inspires innovation

I’m not the first to draw attention to the connection between diversity inclusion and innovation. What I am pointing out is the more obvious blind spot, the need for personal innovation from leaders who address the issue with traditional diversity training. Before we get to that though, let’s take a closer look at diversity and why it matters.

In 2015, McKinsey released a report examining 366 companies based on their diversity. The companies in the diverse quartile based on ethnic and racial diversity generated 35 percent more revenue than the market average.

Similar results were found in a global analysis of 2,400 Credit Suisse companies. Companies with at least one woman at the top achieved higher income growth and returns on equity than companies where no women were at the top of the management hierarchy. Could the recent revelations about Microsoft’s struggles with an organizational culture that steadfastly resists diversity inclusion shed some light on the company’s market challenges over the past decade?

Various studies have been conducted in recent years that reveal another significant advantage of diversity within teams: They are simply smarter. Working with people who are different from yourself challenges your brain to think in new ways. This requires bypassing most people’s natural tendency to fear and resist change. The situation is clouded by studies of thousands of training courses showing that traditional diversity inclusion training courses are not effective and can in fact lead to prejudice.

Focuses more on facts and embraces thinking outside the box

People from different backgrounds can change the image of what is considered normal in the majority of society and bring about a new way of thinking within a group.

In a study published in the American scientific journal Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 200 people were assigned to a fake jury of six people, all white or four white and two non-white. Together they watched video of a lawsuit involving a black suspect and white victims. Then they had to decide if the suspect was guilty.

It turned out that the mixed juries managed to uncover more facts about the case and made fewer factual errors in discussing the matter. If errors occurred, they were corrected in the same conversation. One possible explanation for this was that the mixed panels looked more closely at the evidence.

Another study shows similar results. In a series of experiments from Texas and Singapore, scientists used an economic study to have people walk through a simulated supermarket and guess the price of products. The participants were divided into ethnically differentiated or homogeneous teams. People who were part of the mixed group guessed the prizes 58 percent more often than those in the other group.

Teams with diversity remain more objective in different situations. By creating more diversity, you make teams aware of their biases—something that can blind them to essential information.

Personal innovation strategy

Diverse teams are more innovative, this is now a well-demonstrated reality.

To remain competitive, companies must look for ways to foster innovation. Research shows that one of the best ways to transform yourself and your product is to encourage diversity within the organization.

The gender diversity of 4277 Spanish companies was analyzed within R&D teams. Teams with more women managed a more radical renewal in two years than teams where men were in the majority.

Another study suggested that cultural diversity is key to innovation. The researchers looked at data from 7,615 companies that took part in the London Annual Business Survey, a study of company performance. Companies that respected cultural diversity at the top developed more new products than those with similar leaders. Valuable future-focused events and effective thinking outside the box can become the new normal as teams get smarter by better understanding innovation blind spots.

Involving people of different genders, races, ethnicities, orientations, backgrounds and nationalities can increase the company’s ability to innovate. However, if it were that simple, it wouldn’t still be such a persistent problem. This is where personal innovation, especially in leadership development, is so valuable. Managers must set a good example. Adopt a personal innovation lifestyle that uses the pursuit of happiness to foster personal courage to do the right thing more often.

Leveraging personally meaningful goals is key to personal innovation strategies that circumvent the most common issues with diversity training and innovation capability-building programs. This means that there is no singular solution per se. Instead it calls for cultivating the strategy to live a lifestyle of inner growth, clarity and wisdom.

New innovative approaches to turn challenges into launch pads will help you become the kind leader needed for today’s and tomorrow’s increasingly diverse workforce and markets. Increasing is the key to discovering your personal innovation path. Arts-based solutions, using imagination as a method, allow people to become aware of their biases, find out what they are based on and learn to make better decisions. This will make the leadership more successful regardless of the specific goals. Bottom line: savvy leaders need to find renewed courage, wisdom, and inspiration to face these present and coming challenges.