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Does Diversity Foster Innovation?

Written by Burt on 28 January 2011 No Comment

In “How to Foster Innovation Through Diverse Workgroups“, Eric Markowitz talks about a study conducted by Bill Swann, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Bill Swann studied the effects of employee diversity within workgroups. His theory that people from diverse backgrounds would be able to approach a problem from different viewpoints and product a better product was only partly true. The key according to Swann is for members in these diverse groups to “externalized their personal identities” and make their individuality known. Only then did diversity foster innovation.

I’ve seen this time and again. A great idea based on your unique experience or viewpoint is only a great idea if you throw it out on the table in front of everyone to see. If a company’s culture is one where ideas are not shared or where being an individual is frowned upon then diversity in a workgroup won’t lead to innovation. Heck, I’d venture to guess that a company such as this would only yield ideas from those in power and we all know what that means. Sometimes this happens out of fear. Folks are afraid to externalize their individuality for fear of being on the opposite side of the fence from their boss and would rather not chance it.
Does your company or organization make a conscious effort to build diverse teams? Has it worked out for you? What does diversity mean to your company/organization? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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