True Innovation Starts With Diversity To think differently, you need to fill the room with smart people who have diverse backgrounds, experiences and points of view.

By Randy Garn

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Tara Moore | Getty Images

Uncommon innovation is what the market demands today. It is the Holy Grail because it guarantees exceptional ROI. But innovation is elusive for many companies in the growth phase. Where to place the best bets? With limited capital and resources, mistakes are expensive and cause pain with investors, stockholders and board members.

Innovation begins with the courage and willingness to think differently. That begins at the board and C-suite levels. When leadership is thinking differently, they will challenge others in the company to do the same.

Diversity vs. Diverse Thought

Thinking differently is easier said than done, right? Wrong. It's actually really simple. Studies show that when diverse board members are introduced to an existing board of directors magic begins to happen.

Related: Why You Need Diversity on Your Team, and 8 Ways to Build It

In a recent interview, Summer Anderson, the Managing Partner of executive team builder MiROR Partners, referenced a Harvard Business Review study of the impact of companies' leadership diversity. "While many have suggested that adding 1-3 diverse board members changes bottom-line results, the study countered that diversity on its own isn't the magic, but rather it is the diversity of thought and culture of that team that turns the tide," she explained. "In order to build the freedom to share diverse thinking, the key is to curate an environment of social safety within a board or executive suite."

Anderson believes that innovation stems from trust. When a small seed of an idea is fostered and cultivated in the context of open dialogue then mindset and curiosity rise.

Once trust is set in motion as a social norm for any group, the existing foundational beliefs can be safely challenged and lead the way to better outcomes than ever conceived of before.

"Think Different' begins with different thinking

Apple, arguably one of the most innovative companies in the history of the United States. came up with the slogan "Think Different." This was catchy and stuck in our minds well because it resonates with how we see Apple and the products they have created. Ironically or not, it is this one thing that has made many corporations rise to the top.

Related: Diverse Workplaces Generate 19 Percent More Revenue

Different experiences and adversity a person has endured bring to the table not only a difference of opinion but new perspectives to consider.

When challenged, we are often frustrated, irritated and put out. We try to avoid the people who challenge our thinking because it takes work. Agitation is usually the constant companion for getting out of our comfort zone and is the thing that can either stop us in our tracks or spur us on because we recognize it is the signal of success. Whether or not we push through has everything to do with the character we have developed and our attuned ear to intuition.

When we choose to become curious about something new, learning can be immensely enjoyable. Remember back to your most dreaded class in college. Sometimes it is difficult to will yourself into the library to study, right? But when the class had a great small lab group many different types of people, fun could actually be had while learning organic chemistry. Humans are pack animals and when we work together with a great deal of curiosity rather than certainty we begin to blossom and grow. We feel more alive.

Related: Tips and Benefits for a Management to Have a Diverse Workforce

Innovation codified

Wrapping up our interview, Anderson recommended a few steps to enhance the diversity of thought on your team.

  1. Build courage: Great leadership begins with courage in order to inspire trust. Without trust, nothing will change. If thinking differently and sharing ideas openly isn't safe, innovation will never happen. The change begins with you.

  2. Add diversity. Take a long look within your company. Is your team thinking differently? Or are you hiring just to increase your ratio of diverse team members? Are the diverse members themselves courageous enough to share their opinions? Have you built an attractive, trust-based environment where they can thrive and contribute?

  3. Review Sacred Cows: Get your team to talk about taboo topics. Examine your thinking. Ask a neutral party to facilitate and get to the bottom of "why' things are the way they are.

Randy Garn

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Investor / Entrepreneur

Randy Garn is a passionate entrepreneur, speaker, and New York Times best-selling author. He has mastered the art of customer acquisition, marketing, sales and how it relates to overall lifetime customer experience for many top experts, CEOs and influencers today. 

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