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Ian Dodds Consulting’s (IDC) Monthly Best Practice: Oct 2012

Innovation drives business growth and it’s diversity of thought that powers innovation

IDC has in recent months been working, and discussing, with clients the importance of embracing diversity of thought because of its potential for unlocking business growth. Interest in this has arisen because of the considerable pressures for organisations of all types and sizes to find innovative means off sustaining, growing and even renewing themselves because of the economic downturn.


Professor Scott E Page’s ‘Diversity Trumps Ability Theorem’ offers a powerful key to unlocking innovation. This demonstrates that diverse teams consistently outperform expert, homogeneous teams in solving complex problems. Scott Page explains that this is because experts tend to share many of their ways of solving problems in common; thus providing an excellent partial view of a problem. By contrast, although the diverse group may have fewer problem solving methods on average than individual experts, between them they cover them all and add several more. They offer a more complete view.


I worked with an effect chemicals business once to help it become much more customer oriented. It had an outstanding reputation for its ability to research and develop new effect chemicals. This had led it to become very internally focussed and this was contributing to it becoming a loss maker in the Group. To drive the turnaround in culture that it required its Board set up mixed task teams to tackle the complex issues that had to be addressed. These were comprised of managers and able individuals from across the business and from all levels. This meant that members of the teams had different: backgrounds of education and experience; ways of solving problems; styles of communication; approaches to thinking; beliefs and values; etc. A key to leveraging the power of the considerable diversity of thought present in these mixed task teams was for their members to listen to each other. This involved being prepared to develop and explore different ideas and discuss differing points of view. To achieve this I provided training and coaching in effective dialogue and active listening.


I did this using interactive behaviour methodology. This involved me sitting in on the task teams’ early meetings and training their members in the interactive behaviours that make for both effective advocacy and enquiry. I also sat in on their discussions and generated profiles of the extent to which each task group member was effectively using the full set of interactive behaviours. This resulted in my needing to coach them on some of the key enquiry behaviours such as: checking understanding; seeking information; developing suggestions; acknowledging opinions, ideas and feelings; bringing in; summarising.


In three years the business turned itself round from a loss maker to generating a healthy profit. In the past the complex issues that needed to be solved to turnaround this business had been addressed by its managers. They were mainly white, Anglo-Saxon males, who had studied science at a small group of prestigious universities. Although they were bright and expert, their diversity of thought was very narrow. By having mixed task teams the diversity of thought was multiplied to power innovative solution generation. The mixed teams included: women; people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds; people with different educational and life experiences; different thinking styles and problem solving methods; etc.


Interactive behaviour training and coaching is a powerful means of leveraging diversity of thought for business innovation and growth. If you would like to discuss this approach further please contact me.


Dr Ian Dodds,

28 Sep 2012,


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