When I was a kid, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups was selling their candy by highlighting that two good tastes were even better together. Anyone else remember those old TV ads? Two people would bump into each other, then one would say “you got your peanut butter on my chocolate” while the other said “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter.” The point of the ad was that when both people tried it, they discovered that the combination was better.

Two things that go great together… hmmm

I recently had that concept brought home for me again through a conversation about D&I (diversity and inclusion) and innovation with a (now retired) client. She is a minority woman with decades of HR experience at companies that are household names. She said “Gary, I just can’t see real innovation without D&I, and I cannot see real D&I without innovation.” It is a profound point.

These days it is easy for leaders to think that they need to focus on one thing at a time. Of course, but it overlooks the fact that many things can be improved at the same time. Efforts to improve D&I and efforts to improve innovation are not distinct, they are actually unifying actions. Diverse perspectives drive innovation. Innovation can bring together diverse perspectives.

There are two cases made for diversity and inclusion: the moral case and the business case. The moral case is that people should be treated fairly. The business case is that more diversity will lead to more innovation (among many other benefits like retaining, engaging, and retaining top talent). But just like a merger or acquisition comes with the promise of more synergies and savings, the promise does not happen automatically. Focus, discipline, and processes need to be in place to make it happen.

So what can leaders do to create organizations that are fulfilling the promise of diversity and inclusion by being more innovative?

  1. Give people the tools to create community and environments where people can collaborate together effectively. Whether a company is large or small, there are enterprise-wide tools that specifically support innovation models. Use these to “get a visual” on what is really going on in the organization. Where are the pockets of innovation? What areas need help? Who needs to be encouraged to join in? Which mentors and leaders are being most effective?
  2. Teach people the processes related to applying business creativity. These include but are not limited to LEAN, design thinking, scrum/agile, or other innovation methodologies. Leaders cannot expect people to just spontaneously be better without knowing a process, no matter how diverse.
  3. Use business improvement and applied creativity as a unifying theme. Everyone wants their opinion valued. All people on the team want to be esteemed for the contributions they can bring to the table. All people want to be part of a winning team. Use these basic needs to bring people together in pragmatic ways.
  4. Realize that diversity can be acquired. While focus is usually put on diversity that is inherent (meaning you are born with it like, gender, ethnicity, race, etc.), a lot of diversity can be acquired by an individual through travel, training, and new life experiences. Consider ways to help your people learn more about the world around them and expand their world-view. Just like emotional intelligence (EQ), cultural intelligence (CQ) can be developed to help people be more well-rounded and capable of navigating different cultural environments effectively.

Leaders are rightly interested in having their companies be great places for everyone to work, grow, succeed, and to feel a part of a successful endeavor. Effectively utilizing the relationship between innovation and diversity will go a long way in supporting that.