How to innovate through diversity
I passionately believe in the power of diversity.
Not because I am a proud black man, who is not afraid to challenge injustice regardless of its conscious or unconscious forms.
But because I am a realist.
I understand that this is a very emotive, personal, and often politically loaded subject. Over my past 15 years of working within this subject area from both a community and business perspective, I have seen and felt the positive and negative impacts of innovating through diversity.
But as a multi-award-winning businessman who wears his business battle scars with pride, I also understand why it is a key driver for business success.
But what does this really mean, in practice?
For me, this is about embracing change throughout the whole of your organisation, by integrating cultural, mindset and personal differences.
You can’t always plan for what happens when ideas and people collide, because everyone’s own life experience has conditioned their view on the world. We also ruled by a systemic economic view of being safe and sticking with what we know – this translates to people and inequality, which conflicts with the needs of a more modern, digital and globally-connected age.
Whenever we realise that we must converge differences, things become uncomfortable!
As an entrepreneurial leader, authentic reflection is hard and putting personal ego to one side is a difficult thing. We all have those dark room moments where you question your own ability to lead others.
But it is in those very times, when you must focus the purpose for the business, accept the challenges that you will continue to face, and not let future realities override the importance of innovating and adapting to change today.
Clarity on how often comes from embracing the diversity of thoughts, thinking and ideas of a diverse number of people. By giving the permission and freedom to enable others to work innovatively, within an inclusive environment, you also give yourself the opportunity to receive more innovative approaches of moving forward, which can empower you to act and bring others with you.
This is key, in the global world that all now operate in - technology has democratised competition and you are no longer in competition with the business next door. You are in competition with someone else working from their bedroom, kitchen table, shed or office anywhere in the world.
Competitive gaps are becoming smaller and smaller the more time moves on. But diversity gives you a much more competitive advantage to survive and thrive, in a global world that is becoming increasingly ‘local’.
In addition, the UK is becoming more entrepreneurial than ever before, with people constantly re-imagining the world and the way things have always been done.
Demographic shifts, combined with younger, digitally savvy generations of changemakers are constantly developing new revolutionary models of innovative change who are forging a new legacy.
Innovating through diversity is an evolving and on-going activity, with no right or wrong answer of how it should be done.
But here are 3 founding principles that may help you on your journey:
Clarify the vision for all – the future destination must be one, where every team member can see themselves being valued, respected and having the accountability to do their best to help you all get there. As a leader, the more you can detail their contribution and how that contribution can help on the innovation journey, the emotionally connected that person will be and the more innovation can be created and harnessed.
Learn to embrace fear – regardless of your perspective on fear, you cannot deny its ability to influence change, good or bad. But leadership is about enabling yourself and others to view fear as a motivating catalyst for change - showing that you are not afraid to face reality and being honest with your team at all times builds the genuine trust and authentic loyalty you need to get through the tough times, together.
Understand what sacrifice means to them - sacrifice can be a positive thing – it can enable you to identify and get rid of negative habits, disciplines and behaviours that hold back your potential. Ensure your team members understand what sacrifices have been made, personally and professionally for all, and ensure that they feel comfortable to share too.
A frank and open conversation on this now, will save surprises later.
Till the next time.
About the Author
Joel Blake is Founder of The GFA Exchange, award-winning data analytics start-up helping financial lenders and investors, gain deeper intelligence from their own portfolio.