By Inhi Cho Suh and Kris Lovejoy
Innovation is born out of people thinking differently and from the various perspectives each person brings to the table. And it’s up to companies to create an environment where diversity of thought is valued – where employees feel comfortable stepping outside the mainstream and taking risks. We need to encourage employees to be open, curious and ask questions. Urge them to think deeply and challenge the conventional thinking. They need to be able to take chances and experiment and ask the question that everyone else is too embarrassed to ask. If they make a mistake, challenge them to step back and learn from the experience. Encourage them to view every process, policy or financial hurdle as an “opportunity” as opposed to a barrier. These diverse viewpoints are the very fuel of innovative thinking.
A study from the Center for Talent Innovation found that leaders who make sure women get equal airtime are “89% more likely than non-inclusive leaders to unleash women’s innovative potential.” The study also found that “leaders who are willing to change direction based on women’s input are more than twice as likely to tap into winning ideas. And leaders who make sure each female member on the team gets constructive and supportive feedback are 128% more likely to elicit breakthrough ideas.”
So as companies, we need to challenge ourselves to encourage women, and all employees, to speak up and share their ideas.
We also have to inspire employees to engage, and with engagement follows innovation. Inspiration means pointing the way for others and encouraging them to want to be a part of something bigger. Show them role models and model behavior you want to see replicated.
Encourage employees to network internally and externally – seeking out inspiration in those around them. Connect employees to advocates, coaches and mentors.
People change the world. They invent cognitive systems, cure cancers, create masterpieces, build ecosystems, and do extraordinary things. The pace of change will be dictated by the pace at which we embrace change in ourselves and in each other. Each of us has ordinary moments and extraordinary moments in our lives that shape who we are. We live in a time of transparent global and social networks and technological advancement.
To create a smarter planet, we need more people that think and see things differently – this is where innovation thrives.
Inhi Cho Suh and Kris Lovejoy have been essential to IBM’s legacy of societal and industry leadership in workforce diversity. Both Inhi and Kris were recently appointed as the two co-chairs for the newly revitalized Global Women’s Council at IBM. In this role, they will join with a a group of colleagues who will begin a new era of engagement and participation in diversity to bring about innovative advancements imperative to IBM success.