How diversity helps break linear thinking in your innovation team

I’m not so sure if I should write this post. It contains an email with some info that is best to keep private. But I just can’t contain myself as it’s a visceral example of why having a diverse set of people with different backgrounds, education and mental models makes your team more likely to innovate.

Below is an email from a colleague, from our Creative Generalist venture, where she explains very vividly her on-site visit with a client (nanes were erased to protect identities):

Datum: 13 augustus 2011 00:38:26 GMT+02:00
Onderwerp: from D Sending now will finish later, going out to dinner

Hi A, please edit as you see fit.

Physical layout:

CGF location nice building on the outside, next to blokhaus of Johnson and Wales The Yena House/Library, great old/little diner 2 blocks down, surrounded by parking lots. Bldg is in Fianacial district of Providence. Access easy with public transportation, lots of parking when there early. Busy ddurng fall with Students, City Hall, Courts and Finances in full swing.

Noted building belongs to Masons and managed by a company.

Stark inside, wobbly elevator to “crowded” fllor on 5th when off the elevator. There is an unfinished office with large glass enclosure that gives only 4 feet to their glass door. 8×11 coloured paper sign to GCF.

To get to CGF, walk down a hallway to a door, another paper with CGF printed on it.
“lobby/greeting space has a couch, chair, coffee table area. A desk is set along a wall and there are staurcases going up to the left  of this desk. First impression, dark/dirty/unorganized.

From entrance door in then 90 degree angle is First office for Head Loan officer, Libby, has a pole right in the middle of it, bang once, twice, once when one walks in, twice when one walsk out. Her desk is in there with pole in the way, looks and feels very awkward. Left wall has lists of to do on big “dry erase paper”.

Second office is Andy’s. Clean desk, right wall with big work wall and lots of writing.

Third office empty except for desk and chair.
Fourth office is Kate: Dir of Opps plus possible business manager
Large room face Kate’s office with extra long table.
All casual dress tshirts shorts, with own laptops and headphoness, lighting poor.

Spoke with Kate first as I got there right at 10AM on my phone. Andy was not in. Kate was dresses in a gorgrous fun summer dress. Tall and willowy, beautiful young woman. They are all beautiful.

Kate, very enthousiastic about her job as Dir of operations and possibly soon Business manager as in connecting and building partnerships with local community groups.

Andy, very enthousiastic as well. lots of ideas. His wall of work full of stuff, fcused only on one small section money.
What made you write to us for help? Answer: desperate in the moment.

List shared:
common words used difficult, all over the place, hard, bipolar X4,

Had only ten minutes before client comes in.
Role defined as Head Loan
move Libby to another office
lighten up office
provide resources and contacts…more to come:-) from potential donors, supporters and clients

If you noticed from the description my colleague has a background in interior design. But that’s not why she was there. She was there to meet our client for the first time. But because she’s wired to notice the interior, she let us know about it.

And that is the point. We were not expecting her to come up with all these observations, but because of her background it gives us a different idea as to what’s going on. It also gives us a unique perspective that most of us would not have noticed.

Having people on your team with diverse perspectives is very powerful because it breaks linear thinking which greatly reduces the probability that you’ll solve a problem the same way as before or worse like a competitor.

The opposite of filling your team with diverse sets of people is also true, and I would argue that you do it constantly, bringing people from the outside your domain to challenge your thinking. Mix them both.

When like meets like, there is no creative spark; but when like collides with unlike, there is often a small frisson of inspiration.