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Want a Team to be Creative? Make it Diverse

Want a Team to be Creative? Make it Diverse

Source: Harvard Business Review

11:05 AM Friday May 11, 2012
by Beth Comstock

Diversity is the crucial element for group creativity. Innovation teams tasked with creating new products or technologies or iterating existing ones need tension to produce breakthroughs, and tension comes from diverse points of view. This is the opposite of groupthink, the creativity-killing phenomenon of too much agreement and too similar perspectives that often paralyzes otherwise great teams. We’ve all been on these teams. Everyone is just like us — say, marketers or engineers. Consensus comes quickly, and only later, when we fail and wonder why, do we realize that the easy agreements and shared conclusions doomed us from the start.

Assembling and managing diverse teams is hard work. That tension essential to creativity is tough to manage, requiring deft leadership. The manager must ensure that sometimes sharp disagreements are aired without degenerating into the kinds of arguments that paralyze teams.

How to get started? Take a stubborn challenge you’re currently facing and set up an informal meeting with a harsh critic, someone who often disagrees with your point of view. Critics challenge assumptions and are usually very passionate. Invite them in; hear them out. You may be surprised by how much you learn, and also by how thinking about a problem from a different perspective can refresh and energize your own ideas. In the best case scenario, your harsh critic is now your teammate, and not incidentally, will own the particular issue you asked them about. Turning a critic into a passionate advocate and supporter is a great goal in innovation.

And sometimes the necessary diverse view is one that isn’t way outside the norm: it can be right there in front of you. I remember working on an innovation project with a group of engineers. We had planned what we thought was the perfect ideation session, going to an art museum for inspiration, guided by the best facilitators available and set to tackle a particularly meaty problem facing the team. But we were still too similar as a group. At the last minute, we invited a legal colleague, and it was his unexpected role that became pivotal in giving us the fresh perspective we needed to solve the problem.

Finally, integrating divergent views to boost creativity is a natural job for marketers. At GE, we talk about marketing’s role being about uncovering customers’ value and innovating to deliver it. Doing so is aided enormously by integrating diverse ideas on a single innovation team. The problems our customers face are often too complicated for any one approach — integrating diverse perspectives from within and even from outside the company are key to solving them with new breakthroughs.



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