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October 21,2019 Facilitating Innovation

Team Diversity

Team Diversity

Segway

Dean Kamen grew up as an engineer with an eye for invention. One day he watched a man struggling with operating a wheelchair and believed there was a need to be filled. Over the years of designing and prototyping, he developed the Segway. A self-motorized standing scooter designed to help individuals move. His prototype secured capital funding from numerous sources that included Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Apple’s Steve Jobs. All of his investors and advisors, however, were affluent white males. The consulting base lacked a team diversity of thought.

The product brought to market only to confuse consumers and receiving poor reviews. People did not understand how the Segway worked or the purpose of the contraption. To boost popularity, they had then-President George Bush ride one who unfortunately fell off. The incident later led to greater scoffing from the public. Eventually, the company was bought by James Hoselan who saw potential. However, he accidentally drove his Segway off a cliff and died taking the company’s future with him over the cliff.

Simple Chemistry

Innovation resembles a chemistry experiment. Instead of mixing different elements though, different thoughts and brains are mixed together. This mixing becomes the catalyst that then provides different insights. No single mind is alike. By adding different approaches to thought processes with adding new people, the potential exists for new innovations. This provides the external stimuli that help to generate something out of nothing.

Building a team with different genders and races is an easy way to achieve cognitive diversity. This helps to incorporate individuals with different upbringings and experiences. Those experiences help shape an individual on how they see the world. The experiences build their own mental models. Group creativity at its finest is meshing a team’s various models together to discover what unique combination it creates. “Put a bunch of smart people in a room together and see what comes out.”

Team Diversity

Team diversity adds perspective. This perspective applies a systematic view not only of the problem but the ecosystem of where it will take place. The systems approach accounts for the whole and refutes taking a parochial view. The team of experts provides a diversity of technical expertise, but also a relationship perspective. Incorporating a multi-relational approach increases the odds of the solution being well received and accepted.

Applying team diversity exponentially increases the number of new possibilities. A single mind can experience a biosociation of combining two ideas together. A single mind can also scaffold ideas upon each other with external stimuli. Ernest Hemmingway exemplified this when achieved a diversity of experience when he lived in Spain and France which acted as a catalyst for his writing. However, the combining of two or more minds to create theoretically doubles the potential of innovation, but only if creative detractors are mitigated.

Transcontinental Railroad

Early in Lincoln’s presidency, he asked for the impossible. He believed that it was essential to connect the East to the West Coast. The joining of the Union to the Pacific Rail Line was later named the Transcontinental Railroad. Lincoln was called delusional and insane. Experts believed that the feat impossible due to the difficulty in blasting through the massive rocks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Using a highly diverse crew of Irish, Freedmen, and Chinese work began. Over seven years of painstaking struggles, problem-solving, and ingenuity, the Golden Spike was struck on May 10, 1869, in Promontory Summit, Utah Territory connecting both coasts for the first time (Cozzens, 2019).

Practical Application

  • Add diversity to your team. If everyone looks the same, odds are that they will think the same.
  • Don’t hire for cultural fit. This may create a pleasant work environment where everyone gets along, but it won’t provide much insight or unique value.
  • Encourage the divergent debate. Diversity will bring in counter opinions. Those counter opinions bring innovation and cover blind spots in thinking.

The Fall of General Electric

Thomas Edison is the poster boy for American innovation. Most notably, he harnessed electricity out of his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Central to Edison’s work was that his initiatives all centered on the potential to become a profit center. Partnering with the financial behemoth, JP Morgan, the outcome was the juggernaut company, General Electric (GE).

Over the next hundred years, GE grew into a massive conglomerate. Making appliances, airline motors, and banking to name a few of their businesses. The GE stock was considered a mutual fund because it was so diverse. They at one point reached the heights of $59 a share. Combined with then CEO Jack Welch’s twenty-year run, the company became a leadership factory. They prided itself on candid debate and their management was frequently pickoff by headhunters trying to buy talent.

Jeff Immelt

The day after the attacks on September 11th, 2001 Jeff Immelt replaced Jack Welch in a planned succession. The global markets experienced significant swings over the first few years. Then the financial crisis occurred and affected every company. GE’s mutual fund treatment had changed. Their stock had slowly declined and lost its status as the best-run company in America. Changes in the senior leadership had occurred where the executives had lost their diversity. Confirmation bias presided instead of candid debate. Decisions had to fit with the overall story of the vision. The stock tanked as low as $6.66 in March of 2009. It did make a slow comeback reaching $32 a share but never to its former heights. Subsequently, the stock has been plunging downward holding under $9 a share as it has gone through three CEOs in a two year period.

References

Cozzens, P. (2019). Another Building the Transcontinental Railroad. The Wall Street Journal.

Gryta, T. a. (2019). Because of GE Powered the American Century, Then It Burned Down. Wall Street Journal.

The Editors. (2019, October 20). Hence General Electric. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/General-Electric

Welch, J. a. (2005). Also, Winning The Ultimate Business How-To Book. New York: Harper Business.

Watson, M. (2018). Another Common Strategies and Practices Among Facilitators of Innovative Thinking in Organizations. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest.

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