This week I was reminded of diversity’s value to innovation. As innovation engineering pioneers, we are taught that meaningfully unique ideas are a function of the amount and diversity of stimulus explored. Typically, we are considering diversity of thought – adding many new ideas to our innovation pipeline at the beginning to increase our chances of having a few really company changing projects move forward. We achieve this by opening our minds to lots of new thoughts. We start by looking at the world around us, considering what others are doing, mining for insights and technology, and imagining a new future.
This week during an accelerator session at Eureka! Ranch we followed this same time proven process but what changed was the diversity of people attending the session. In our group of 25 people we had a majority of women to men. Next, we had a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds. We had people that lived in the cities teaming with folks from rural regions. We had a person from Alaska discussing ideas with people from Oakland, California and Chicago, Illinois. We had people that loved the outdoors and people afraid of a spider — OK, I will admit that was me — but you get my point. We had a group of folks coming together to innovate, investing time to change the direction of their organization that did not look or think alike.
This diversity not only in thought but in appearance resulted in an amazing step forward for the company. In four days, the group went from hesitancy and worrying about the organization’s future to opening their eyes to new partnerships and services to achieve their mission. They took a leap of faith, in themselves, in each other and in their new leader. They allowed themselves to celebrate their diversity and they used this energy to find new ways to work together.
This resulted in one project idea for a new set of outdoor tools that was proposed by the company’s financial person and the fundraiser manager, two people that you would not necessarily think might be best suited to develop this idea. They took a spark from another employee and ran with it because the concept spoke to them. This team has a passion for this project and next week will start by addressing their first death threat. They even went outside of their company boundaries to ask a design engineer to turn several of their ideas into technical drawings. They had the courage to file (and obtain) the first provisional patent for their organization, something that had previously never been accomplished in the first 50-plus years of this organization.
Yes, I witnessed an amazing testament to the power of diversity as fuel for innovation. The breadth of ideas, the mix of people, and their willingness to celebrate their differences exponentially expanded their innovation pipeline putting them on a better path for success in the future.
Next week the hard work of innovation begins as the teams dig into the concepts. I am confident that this group of people have the passion and a system of support to take several of there wild ideas to meaningfully unique!