A couple of months ago I was asked by the organisers of the Tech Leaders Summit if I could pull together a panel discussion on the theme of digital innovation.

A few things struck me. First of all, that having become increasingly aware of and now refusing to take part in all-male panels, if I was going to accept the challenge then I would be needing to step up and make sure that I wasn’t falling foul of the things about which I criticize others. And secondly that maybe this would give me the opportunity to explore an idea I’ve become increasingly interested in: that effective innovation is in itself an exercise in harnessing diversity.

Let me explain. Innovation is about coming up with ideas. The biggest obstacle to new ideas is often groupthink: people who work together, from the same background, coming to the conclusion that that’s just the way things work.

To blow up the groupthink you need to blow up the group. You need to bring people together from different backgrounds: professional, organisational and cultural. Diverse groups, however, are harder to manage than monocultural ones. There’s less in common between people, less common experience, less common language. Misinterpretation is easy. Everything has to be made more explicit. That can take time – time often that’s seen as not available, so let’s get the bros back in the room…

Now this isn’t just my theory – it’s explored quite extensively in Scott Page’s The Difference (sponsored link). But it makes me think that organisations generally have placed the diversity agenda squarely in the “HR/ethics/compliance” quadrant rather than in the “engines of growth” one. And that needs highlighting.

So my idea for the panel is as follows: bring together as diverse a group of people as I can to explore the theme of how do you get people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to work together effectively to innovate? Either the thing will prove my point in a moment of glorious collaborative victory, or won’t in which case at very least I’ve shown that you only find things out by experimenting and hopefully the reputation of the people I’ve invited remains intact (it will).

“How exciting!” I hear you say. Yes, it is, isn’t it? And wait until you hear about the group of people that I’ve brought together to sit on a stage in front of loads of technology leaders…

First up, musical artist and creative director Timo Peach.

Gen Z expert (and not just because she is one) Leila Willingham.

Neurodiversity-specialist psychologist and bona fide television star Dr Nancy Doyle.

An executive headhunter who focuses on emerging markets Mohan Yoghendran.

And founder of global digital agency RedDotDigital Karima-Catherine Goundiam.

Innovative, diverse and, well, I am really looking forward to seeing how the conversation goes on September 12. You can find out more at Tech Leaders Summit.

2 thoughts on “Harnessing Diversity

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