Diversity Invites Insights

September 24, 2019 Focus area: Continuous Innovation
"Strength lies in differences, not in similarities" - Stephen Covey

In this fourth part of my blog series on innovation practices enabling continuous innovation, I will discuss the importance of interdisciplinarity. Read my previous innovation blogs here:

1.    Turn problems into actions

2.    Innovation requires a flowing system

3.    Market validation is the only validation

Diversity invites insights

New insights and opportunities for innovation arise when you put together different people. Combining different academic backgrounds, cultures, functions, or work experiences often provides a way to introduce different problem-solving techniques, new knowledge, concepts and tools that will spark new insights.

Interdisciplinarity is more than the combination of different research fields. It adds the combination of different methods from different disciplines, using a real synthesis of approaches. Therefore, the stimulation of interdisciplinarity has the following two benefits:

1.    Increases overall performance of the innovation team.

2.    It stimulates challenging existing norms and paradigms.

Increases innovation team performance

Frans Johansen describes in his book, ‘The Medici Effect’, that innovation comes from diverse industries, cultures, and disciplines intersecting and bringing ideas from one field into another. In addition, both multiple scholars (such as Alves et al.) as well as wide accepted agile working methods such as Scrum and SAFe acknowledge this effect. Alves et al. argue that, especially in idea generation process, combining different perspectives helps with different heuristics that are highly unlikely to emerge in a homogeneous and intradisciplinary environment.

When combining the people who develop with the people who are maintaining the products, teams can deliver faster, higher quality, fewer errors, better maintainability - while having more fun at it, too! It can be nice ‘delegate’ work you don’t want to do anyway and put it on someone else’s backlog and avoid accountability. But since we are social creatures, delivering awesome solutions by sharing responsibilities and making customers happy is what really keeps the dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin flowing and gets you out of bed every morning.

Challenge existing norms and paradigms

Breaking and challenging existing norms and paradigms generates outcomes that nobody expected and potentially the next breakthrough innovation. One of the things that Newton, Einstein, Curie, Musk and all other great innovators had in common, is that they were able to challenge existing structures and established rules and codes of conduct.

The sense of separateness helped the innovators to become original thinkers. For example, Einstein wrote his 4 ground breaking papers without the influence of existing physicians and their biased well accepted principles of the universities. Likewise, Musk pioneered with reusable rockets, something the space industry deemed impossible. So, first imagine what could or should be, then validate the possibilities and never assume it is impossible!

Thanks for reading my blog and please share your comments and thoughts. In my next blog I’ll explain the fourth practice: 'Focus and Keep It Simple. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about continuous innovation, visit the Continuous Innovation Framework website.

References and further readings

  • Alves, J., Marques, M. J., Saur, I., & Marques, P. (2007). Creativity and innovation through multidisciplinary and multisectoral cooperation. Creativity and innovation management, 16(1), 27-34.
  • Johansson, F. (2004). The Medici effect: Breakthrough insights at the intersection of ideas. Concepts, and Cultures, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.
  • McKinsey (2013). Eight essentials of Innovation performance.
  • Schilling, M. (2018) Quirky