The drive for innovation has never been as strong as it is today – we are in a position where new ideas are developed and put into practice constantly, with the power to shape how our future will look and feel. If we aren’t supporting innovation, we’re falling behind. Unsurprisingly, young people are incredibly attuned to this, and far more so than the generations currently dominating the corridors of power.
Yesterday my colleague Hannah Lawson and I presented a workshop to a small group of university students at our alma mater, the Australian National University, as part of a day-long event encouraging innovation amongst the student body. This event included a competition for the best start-up idea, and listening to the diverse visions of these students was incredibly inspiring. Solving simple problems with new technology, using global communications to foster environmental and social sustainability, and better directing existing human resources to support those who need them most were all themes that emerged.
What was clear from these ideas is that innovation is not just about technology. It’s about people: understanding what they need, and how to deliver it. That’s where our workshop came in, which was titled ‘Diversity and Inclusion: An imperative for innovation’.
Simply, in order to generate ideas that support a diverse society, we need to engage the skills of people from diverse backgrounds. And in order to ensure that all these people feel able to contribute their full selves, we need inclusive environments that support, value, and inspire us all.
Countless studies show the benefit of diversity and inclusion to business, and indeed, to innovation and ideas generation. I won’t take up space to present or explain this research as it’s so conclusive, but you can check out this great recent article in the Harvard Business Review summarising just a small portion of it.
What’s frustrating is how difficult it is to access these benefits. In no small part this is due to structures and systems that advantage those in the majority and in power, but there’s more subtle stuff going on. Our minds are trained over a lifetime of experiences, and indeed formed by many lifetimes of evolutionary responses, to react with fear and suspicion to those we perceive as not like us, to preference our own perspectives without being open to alternatives, and to categorise others according to their difference rather than noticing what we have in common.
Getting past this is hard. Whether you’re working in a team to develop government policy, creating a marketing campaign, or a student wanting to change the world, we need to be aware of how our minds work, and to notice our responses to working with people we don’t have a natural affinity with. And, with that knowledge, be mindful and intentional in every interaction to create the space for diversity to thrive.