Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation through Diversity

Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation through Diversity

Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation through Diversity

Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation through Diversity


Today's workforce is more diverse than ever before. But despite new perspectives and talents, the promise of increased innovation rarely materializes. Why are so few businesses seeing results?

Studies show that diverse teams are more creative than homogenous ones--but only when they are managed effectively. The secret is to minimize conflict while maximizing the informational diversity found in varied values and experiences. To do this, both leaders and team members need a high level of cultural intelligence, or CQ.

Drawing on success stories from Google, Alibaba, Novartis, and other groundbreaking companies, Driven by Difference identifies the management practices necessary to guide multicultural teams to innovation, including how to:

  • Create an optimal environment
  • Build trust
  • Fuse differing perspectives
  • Align goals and expectations
  • Generate fresh ideas
  • Consider the various audiences when selecting and selling an idea
  • Design and test for different users

Cultural differences can lead to gridlock, or they can catalyze innovation and growth. This research-based plan turns diversity's potential into economic reality.


“Diversity leads to innovation!” That’s the mantra repeated by many diversity proponents. I just heard it again a couple of weeks ago from a diversity guru who spoke before me at an international leadership conference in New York. It makes sense. Looking at a problem from a diversity of perspectives is likely to yield better solutions than viewing it solely from one myopic view. But this rose-colored view of diversity doesn’t jive with reality. Just as two newlyweds quickly discover that vastly different perspectives on how to set up house don’t necessarily lead to better results, the same is true for multicultural teams that are coalescing on a project.

I recently talked with a senior vice president from one of the largest global banks who told me his bank cut its diversity and inclusion budget by 90 percent because its leaders couldn’t see any return on investment from their diversity efforts. A couple of months ago, a group of South African executives told me, “We’re two decades post-apartheid and we’ve made very little progress in seeing better results from our incredibly diverse workforce.” And many universities and governments around the world have abandoned affirmative action–type programs, suggesting it’s time to move on.

Meanwhile, there’s very limited diversity in many of the Silicon Valley companies lauded as examples of innovation. Jeffrey Sonnefeld of Yale University believes tech firms place a premium on young white males. He says, “It’s sort of a throwback to an era we should be long past, which is the macho world of the giggling boys, with the hackers’ sensibility that somehow we are living in a pure meritocratic world.” Google executive Nancy Lee agrees, at least in part. She admits that Google’s workforce is predominantly white . . .

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