To be effective, creativity requires collaboration and diverse perspectives.
William Wulf, past president of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering wrote that creativity “is the result of making unexpected connections between things we already know. Hence, creativity depends on our life experiences. Without diversity, the life experiences we bring to an engineering problem are limited.”
We understand diversity inherently – for instance through our gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation – and also comprehend it as a result of our experiences, e.g., international and multicultural immersions and professional relationships across genders.
Creativity is enhanced when different points of view are integrated and is stifled when individuals in a team feel pressured to suppress an important part of their identity, e.g., being a woman or a member of a minority. When they are encouraged to express these bicultural identities, creativity flourishes.
While it is widely accepted that diversity enhances creativity and thus innovation, it can also create conflict. Conflicts can arise during implementation if diverse teams fragment into homogenous sections.
The good news: this fragmentation can be prevented through the mutual understanding facilitated by good leadership, Hence, proper leadership of diverse teams matters.
What should leaders do? They should be aware that facilitating true diversity requires respect. The profound association between a person’s perception of respect and the respect accorded by the team to the cultural group that person belongs to matters.
Good leaders are self aware about their understanding of the inherent diversity and acquired diversity within a team. When they understand, appreciate and value diversity, they also make it safe for all team members to fully participate and propose novel ideas.
Consequently, innovation flourishes.