How an inclusive culture based on trust can encourage innovation

During a recent business trip to Seattle, I was responsible for leading a discussion about the retention of executive female leaders. Minutes after the introduction, the conversation quickly jumped to the question, “How do we create more thought diversity within key product lines to further innovation?”

By asking some other questions about thought diversity, it helps to put a sharper focus on the process:

What types of corporate cultures foster thought diversity?

Corporate cultures where a variety of viewpoints can safely express their options with equal consideration often foster creative problem-solving and innovation.

“A problem-solving approach that lets pockets of enthusiasm and expertise manifest themselves and find each other can yield surprisingly large rewards, even in the unlikeliest places.” (William Frey, Census projects new “majority minority” tipping points, Brookings Institution, December 13, 2012)

Why is thought diversity often a goal and not a reality?

With demanding deadlines and sometimes-unjust expectations, it is not always easy to seek diverse views especially if your leadership team is more homogenous in nature. Many leaders that have years of experience, may rely on previous knowledge, known opinions, and perceived expectations.

These dependencies can unknowingly influence our thinking, which is highlighted in Stephanie Vozza article in Fast Company: “5 Common Unconscious Biases That Lead To Bad Decisions.” Vozza shares common pitfalls such as “availability bias where we make decisions based on the information that is available at that point.” This approach can often overlook valuable data.

Another pitfall Vozza highlights is, “asking people that will likely agree with your decisions or approach rather than seeking other viewpoints that could enhance your deliverables.”

How do you increase thought diversity in your corporate culture?

Alison Griswold’s article in Business Insider, “Why ‘Thought Diversity’ Is The Future Of The Workplace” provides great advice beyond hiring “unconventional candidates. She suggests:

  • Know your team, and leverage their unique talents.
  • Encourage “reverse mentoring” on your team to get a mix of perspectives.
  • Create a culture that is open to new ideas, and start with yourself.
  • Rephrase your questions to encourage honest feedback.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, also echoed these types of suggestions at a recent Cleveland Clinic event, “Ideas for Tomorrow.” I asked Welch, “What advice do you give executives seeking thought diversity within their executive ranks?”

He responded with great insight on how executives could create thought diversity at all levels of the organization. His advice:

  • Create a safe environment for employees to voice their opinions.
  • Seek the truth from different levels and viewpoints.
  • Demonstrate that it works.

From these viewpoints, creating an inclusive culture based on trust and transparency that proactively engages and encourages minority viewpoints can foster creative problem-solving to aid corporate momentum and further innovation.

JJ DiGeronimo is president of Purposeful Woman and Tech Savvy Women, author of “The Working Woman’s GPS” and “Before You Say YES.” For more information, visit www.purposefulwoman.com.