Monday, March 21, 2011

The Idea Hunter's Dictionary: D is for Diverse -- Insights from FMCG Practice

More and more different people? How desirable is that? Well, if getting new ideas is your objective, then we believe that it is essential!

There should no longer be any doubt in anyone's mind, as we move into this brave new world of Globalization, that diversity is much, much, more than mere political rhetoric. Make no mistake, "politically-correct" rhetoric was undoubtedly necessary to insure social change, and has been extremely important in forcing us to finally recognize the disservice that we've paid to our species by minimizing the potential contributions of an entire gender, and large groups of our fellow travelers on this planet, for much of recorded history. But, in many instances, we are now at a point where the institutionalization of diversity-preaching has faded into the background noise of running a complex organization. Despite this, we should not lose sight of the importance of diversity practices in building a smarter organization. Diversity -- be it gender, race, religion, geography, profession, you name it -- matters when new ideas are being sought!

From an Idea-Hunter's perspective, there is significant appreciation that diverse sources of ideas are our best chance for getting an "edge" on our competitors. In any industry, when we look around, the rivals have most likely gone to the same schools, studied the same materials, read the same books, hung-out with the same types of people, and probably, as a result of all of this, are likely to have the same ideas, at about the same point in time. Relying on diverse sources of experiences, insights, and ideas, to make an effort to break the "sameness cycle" and really get an unusual idea is the best antidote to being held hostage to the very same "conventional wisdom" as is everyone else. If we can strip-away the rhetorical baggage of preaching diversity, there is real merit in making the effort, as I discovered last week in a program that I ran for a global fast-moving-consumer-goods leader.

When I asked -- as an Idea-Hunter -- 30 or so mid-career participants to identify an actual example of how diversity worked to make their company more effective with respect to the acquisition and usage of new ideas, the results were gratifying and instructive:

* Behavior changes -- diverse teams create a motivation for team members to reappraise their behaviors, which typically results in increased professionalism and more effective interaction.

* More external partnerships -- diverse teams break the mold in what it possible, and what is familiar, and both lead to a greater range of partnership choices and a greater willingness to explore such relationships.

* Best-practice sharing -- diverse teams overcome "not-invented-here" tendencies by sharing experiences in an inclusive fashion: rather than imposing them from above -- change is fostered through peer-to-peer learning instead of being commanded. Also, by filling mid-career appointments from outside, it is possible to learn from other firms both inside and outside the industry.

* Diverse teams create the opportunity to debate such questions as "Why?" instead of starting immediately with "How?"

* Diverse teams lead to different levels of engagement -- the example of more women in the sales force was used by several teams to illustrate how the nature of the selling process was changed just by having different people [females] involved.

Each of these is a valuable outcome in its own right; together they represent a set of advantages that many organizations would love to have. What is so striking here, however, is that they are not so much "big, strategic" initiatives, but more the commonsense employment of diverse, and often temporary, teams which can be developed specifically for raising the probability of getting better ideas.

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