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DIVERSITY Drives CREATIVITY and INNOVATION: History proves it!

Every once in a while, something or someone pops up on our path to affirm that we are headed in the right direction, by pointing us to WISDOM that affirms what we all need to know, documented long ago — perhaps in a different way. When we least expect it, a supporting “proof point” shows up to cheer us on as we are making our important contributions to advancing business and society. Nice! Interestingly, these bits of WISDOM most often are simply stated bringing a next level of clarity to a concept or idea that we’ve worked hard to express and many times, it comes from places you never looked. I had one of those discoveries a few days ago. Profound, absolutely. Validating, yes!

This time, the unexpected WISDOM popped up on an app on my iPhone from the Spring and Autumn Period of China (722–481 BC) from an ancient Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher — Sun Tzu — who is traditionally believed to have been the author of The Art of War. This was not exactly a source that I would have researched to validate that diversity drives innovation, but I learned differently.

Consider Sun Tzu’s examples. He expresses each with simplicity and clarity of language, using three well-known universal teachers —- music, taste, and color. They demonstrate that diversity is a key driver of innovation. In its presence, you broaden your inventory of possibilities for innovation.

SUN TZU Insights…

There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.

There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.

What was most exciting about this find was its validation of years of the independent work, collaborative research with my long-time colleague, futurist Joel Barker and also lessons learned as a leader and working with customers. It feels good to discover something so clear and true and universal to explain what we need to know about one another and about life and work itself — that when we put our differences to work, we can create innovations we never imagined. In my book, Putting Our Differences to Work, I wrote:

Organizations and individuals all over the world are discovering that putting our differences to work is the most powerful accelerator for generating new ideas, creating innovative solutions, executing organizational strategies, and engaging everyone in the process. The breakthrough is the essential ingredient of diversity, in its broadest sense. …The magic begins when we come together. The secret is learning how, when, and where to tap into all the wealth of insight, wisdom, and new thinking to solve problems, create new products and services, and build stronger communities with benefits for everyone.

Sun Tzu seemed to see this about diversity in all that life offers us. Diversity not only is the key ingredient to generate a wealth of new ideas for innovation, diversity also is the key ingredient that expands the wealth of beautiful music and vibrant art, the wealth of delicious tastes, the wealth of new products, services — and the unlimited possibilities that all our collective differences can create.

RECENT STUDY: From a business perspective, regardless of the “customer” you and organization serve, this validation of the significance of diversity is a call-to-action to today’s leaders at every level. In a recent study from IBM, senior leaders in public sector, general managers, and CEOs from around the world named CREATIVITY as the #1 leadership quality in demand — not just being creative as a leader yourself, but knowing where, when and how to tape into the diverse creative force in others to drive innovation. Again, Sun Tzu‘s wisdom carries a powerful lesson to put in our tool bags: Diversity drives creativity and innovation. Joel Barker affirmed why this is significant in his film, Wealth, Innovation & Diversity: “societies and organizations that most creatively incorporate diversity will reap the rewards of innovation, growth, wealth, and progress.”IBM’s recent CEO global study taken across sectors, both public and private, around the world. How are you doing?

How can YOU Tap into WISDOM: Three ideas!
I’ve always been drawn to wisdom as a source of insight for my work and life. There is much there to draw upon to solve our most pressing problems adapted to a new time. Here are three ideas to broaden your own perspective:

1. Read outside your boundaries.
This was the advice of one of my mentors long ago. It will open up your mind.

2. Develop a practice of thinking, questioning, and applying. When you try on what you’ve learned, you build skill, refine practice, boost confidence, and perfect your own knowledge.

3. Integrate diversity of thought into your practices.
Tap into cross-cultural wisdom and philosophy on life and work. A friend told me why this was important. “WISDOM is knowledge with a long shelf-life.” (Dr. Bruce Lloyd, Professor of Strategic Management Emeritus, London South Bank University)



Debbe Kennedy, author, Putting Our Differences to Work
The Fastest Way to Innovation, Leadership and High Performance
*** Axiom Business Book Award Winner *** — Bronze for HR/Employee Training

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Debbe Kennedy

Dear Eric, Thanks for stopping by to say so! Much appreciated… It was a great discovery for me at the time. We all think things are new and so much has always been there. Debbe

Eric Melton

I also discovered a surprisingly open minded historical leader recently – During a recent Army Leadership course, we had to read a leader biography and bring it along ready to discuss. I was already in the middle of Genghis Khan’s historical biography by John Man, so I used that one (he has since written a second book solely about his leadership secrets, and also authored a terrific book on Attila). As expected, it was fun to share my leader’s story, amidst the expected choices (Presidents, Generals, Civil rights icons, etc.) it raised eyebrows and made me a hit in class -(watch this guy, you remember his leader-model…;) , but it was also very eye-opening. Genghis Khan was able to command such huge land masses by his open-minded policies on diversity:
– He did not replace all conquered leaders, but incorporated many of them into his Army, leaving them in power under him.
– He allowed complete freedom of religion, instead of forcing his own on others.
– He rewarded loyalty, promoting from within.
– He took many prominent wives from all conquered peoples, which incorporated them as family as well (and passing his DNA to more than half the world’s population today, no less).
– He valued family, friends, and the opinions of women.
– He promoted literacy and documentation.
– He embraced diversity and enjoyed the benefits and shared knowledge of multiculturalism.

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