Analytify (Bug): TCP connection reset by peer Placing diversity of thought at the center of innovation – NetApp on NetApp
NetApp on NetApp
diversity of thought

Placing diversity of thought at the center of innovation

While listening to the latest episode of CIO Central with Qualcomm CIO Mary Gendron, we were struck by Mary’s thoughts on diversity, specifically diversity of thought and how it relates to innovation.

“You’re really bringing an orchestra together,” Gendron said. “An orchestra makes up so many different instruments, but everyone plays their own instrument in their own way, but when you bring it all together it makes for beautiful music.

“Don’t try and make everyone sound the same way. Let them have their voice. The skills have to be developed to ensure our employees understand how to have constructive conversations.”

This kind of diversity of thought is vital in IT, a traditionally homogenous field. NetApp IT is a global service provider, serving NetApp employees around the world. Though we’re based in the United States, our customers are in Europe, Asia, Australia, and beyond. The way Americans approach a problem may not work best for workers in Japan.

So, why and how do we avoid creating an organizational hivemind that only thinks in one way?

The diversity of thought business case

The numbers are fairly straight forward for embracing a workforce with diverse backgrounds. According to a McKinsey report companies in the top quartile for diversity were significantly more likely to have above-average profitability than those in the bottom quartile. For gender diversity, the top quartile was 25 percent more likely. For racial diversity, the difference was 36 percent.

Another study found that diverse teams made decisions 87% more effectively than non-diverse teams. They also make decisions twice as fast.

There is plenty more data beyond this that supports diversity of thought. It’s not enough to support diversity just for diversity’s sake. Diversity should be supported because it positively impacts the bottom line.

“I do diversity not because it’s the right thing to do, I do it because it’s the only way to do it,” Gendron said. “We do it to drive up the revenue side.”

This kind of diversity of thought is vital in IT, a traditionally homogenous field. NetApp IT is a global service provider, serving NetApp employees around the world. Though we’re based in the United States, our customers are in Europe, Asia, Australia, and beyond. The way Americans approach a problem may not work best for workers in Japan.

So, why and how do we avoid creating an organizational hivemind that only thinks in one way?

Using cognitive diversity to innovate

Cognitive diversity includes differences in perspective or different ways we process information. A group of people that think the same way is going to approach a problem in similar ways and come up with a predictable answer they’re uniformly comfortable with. This is how groupthink sets in and the Detroit auto industry loses significant market share to Japan or Swissair goes out of business.

Truly innovative companies create teams with different backgrounds and perspectives to attack issues from a 360-degree approach. As discussed above, this doesn’t mean diversity for diversity’s sake, but bringing together people with different personalities and perspectives avoids blinders that can cripple projects.

Personally, I’ve found the best teams I’ve worked on include some – or all – of the following:

  • The weirdo – Give me one super creative type that has really chaotic energy.
  • The noThe one member of the team that is skeptical of everything. Convince this person and you’re good to go.
  • The cheerleader – The morale booster that keeps groups optimistic through tough times. Like, Ted Lasso in real life.
  • The noob – Find someone that’s not as engrained in your product or service to serve as the voice of the customer.
  • El jefe – Part strategist, part project manager, full leader.
  • The nerd – You need someone to dig deep into a product, process, or system to expose the nuts and bolts and identify strengths and weaknesses.

This is nowhere near an exhaustive list, but simply my own perspective. Putting together a holistic, well-researched list would, of course, take a multitude of differing opinions and productive discussions, as any quality team includes. It takes some work to avoid groupthink, but the benefits make for an easy business case for long-term growth.