Innovation’s human factor: Broadening the definition of diversity

  • Posted on July 17, 2019
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

The following blog post was written by Avanade alum Elizabeth Derby.

Inattentional blindness – it’s a thing


Picture this: You’re head down in the midst of an important project, totally absorbed in the task at hand. Focus is important, but does it cause you to miss out on peripheral context that may have great value to your project and to you personally?


If so, you’re not alone. Many people experience inattentional blindness, also known as perceptual blindness – the failure to notice a fully-visible, yet unexpected element because attention was engaged on another task, event, or object. Selective attention is one way our brain attempts to sort the 11 million pieces of information that come at us at any given time. Take this selective awareness test for some self-insight.


What we know about diversity in innovation


What’s missing or unnoticed can sometimes create bias, and that goes against the grain of inclusion and diversity. This can also negatively impact the ability to innovate at both an individual and organizational level. We know that diverse experiences, perspectives and backgrounds are critical for successful innovation, and we know that I&D is essential in attracting and retaining top talent.


According to recent research conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, increasing the diversity of leadership teams:


  • Leads to more and better innovation.
  • Improves financial performance – in fact, companies with diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenue due to innovation.
  • Increases adaptability, due to different viewpoints and solutions.


Diversity is about more than minds, ideas and approaches


While much of the current research defines diversity in terms of gender, age, ethnic origin, career path, industry background and educational focus, where do different working styles come into play? A working style is typically not learned; it’s inherent to how an individual tends to solve problems, make decisions and communicate with others. To achieve innovation success, it’s important that these four types of working styles are represented in the workplace – at both organizational and team levels:


  1. Logical, analytical and data-oriented
  2. Organized, plan-focused and detail-oriented
  3. Supportive, expressive and emotionally oriented
  4. Strategic, integrative and idea-oriented


When teams are comprised of individuals with diverse working styles and where these different ways of working are truly valued, it’s more likely that the “group think” model will be challenged and creative solutions will come forth. Tools like CliftonStrengths assessment are invaluable aids to building strong, diverse teams. Another critical ingredient is psychological safety to express an alternative approach or idea.


Project leads stand to benefit greatly from considering the diverse working styles of team members. For example, a team comprising people that are mostly analytics or emotionally oriented, would likely lose sight of other factors that would result in stronger and more efficient work processes and client results. So, structuring teams made up of people with complementary working styles would mitigate the risk of falling into the trap of inattentional blindness or myopia.


What’s the cost of diversity?


Not everyone is onside with diversity. Some managers raise objections to the cost of problem-solving initiatives based on sheer team size and varied working styles – doesn’t all of that diversity just lead to more meetings and more perspectives to consider? Doesn’t diversity cause more friction due to differing points of view? Isn’t the crisp, transactional “business-as-usual” solution easier and quicker than venturing outside the box?


But that is precisely the point. It’s important to look beyond business-as-usual and focus on the bigger picture: connecting the culture of innovation with the inclusion and diversity conversation. When we put these expanded teams together, merging skills, experience and working styles along with other diversity dimensions, we’re able to embrace their value far beyond what any one individual can contribute. We get better results – value for our clients and a more enriching workplace and employee experience.


Sometimes, we do this internally through existing partnerships and alliances, but we can also bring this thought diversity to the table by including various external partners, including clients, to help frame challenges, develop roadmaps and create solutions. It’s a blend of strategic and tactical thinking that builds bridges, expands the solution set – and it works. Some people call it expanded thinking. I call it diversity in action.


Inclusion + Diversity = Innovation


Cultivating an environment that truly welcomes and values differing points of view and intentionally includes different working styles and approaches will get us there. When you boil it all down, there’s a simple formula: Inclusion + Diversity = Innovation.

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