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Diversity and creativity

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Diversity and creativity

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Diversity is widely believed to be a good thing in business.  Most of the benefits of diversity however come from the diversity of thought that offers organizations fresh insights and perspectives.  This is in contrast to the kind of diversity that many organizations focus on, which is typically of the identity based variety.

In The Difference Scott Page highlights four things needed for diversity to come into its own.

  1. The problem needs to be tough enough that no single person will always come up with a solution
  2. The team members need to have some intelligence in the general area of the problem
  3. The team members need to be able to incrementally improve solutions to the problem
  4. The team needs to be large enough to have a genuinely diverse talent pool

Where he doesn’t focus however is on the importance of a shared or common purpose.  That was something touched on in a recent paper published in the Academy of Management Journal.

The research explores the possibilities for tensions to arise when two people from different cultures attempt to collaborate in the workplace.  It suggests that the potential differences between these two people, even if unrelated to their cultural backgrounds, diminishes their ability to think creatively.

“Creativity is not necessarily about producing a completely new idea or product that never existed before [but] oftentimes involves combining existing ideas in new ways that are useful toward solving practical problems,” the researchers say. “To solve problems creatively in a global multicultural context, problem-solvers need to first see non-obvious connections among ideas from different cultures … . Ambient cultural disharmony motivates people to shut down the search for connections and patterns involving ideas from different cultures because they have come to believe that such intercultural connections are not feasible.”

All of which underlines the importance of a shared goal.  In an adaptive organization, the manager has two main roles.

Providing context

The first of these is to provide both the organisation as a whole, and the employees within it with a context.  The context is crucial because it outlines three things that are essential to ensure the organisation retains a focus.  It outlines the reason for the organisations existence (it’s purpose), it outlines the core principles by which it functions, and it outlines a high-level design for the business.

These things help to set out the over-riding goal for the organisation and some principles by which it will go about achieving that goal.  In essence it’s providing the organisation with some boundaries and rules by which employees can then play by.  They help to give empowered people some guidance on how to behave that are crucial to ensure that all employees work together.

Providing coordination

The second main task for the manager to provide therefore is that of coordination.  Once the context has been outlined, it’s important to understand if that guidance is being adhered to.  The sense and respond philosophy at the heart of adaptive organisations applies just as much internally as it does by pulling in external data.  It’s crucial therefore that managers play a strong role in monitoring what’s happening and adapting accordingly.

It should be said, this isn’t focusing on how people go about their job.  That’s very much the preserve of the old make and sell approach.  Rather it’s ensuring that what people do fits well together.  The actual way people go about doing their job is largely decided by them, within the guidance outlined in the context phase from earlier.

When leadership provides these things, then diversity can I believe be a positive thing, as it ensures that everyone understands both the direction of the enterprise, and the rules within which it should operate.

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