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Your mind is your most powerful asset for innovation. Spend time thinking about innovation and it will help foster creative breakthroughs. Maintaining and developing a climate of culturally intelligent innovation among a diverse team requires a deliberate, ongoing effort. Our attention and therefore our companies are easily distracted. But there are a few practices that can help.
Prime for culturally intelligent innovation
To what degree do people across your organization share a vision for innovation and looking ahead? Do they view as a great idea that belongs to someone else? And to what degree is diversity consciously linked to innovation as a resource for new ideas?
Directing attention toward culturally intelligent innovation begins with leadership. Some companies actually appoint someone as the chief innovation officer, but not everyone agrees that's necessary or helpful. Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg write, "The Chief Innovation Officer position is doomed to fail because it will never have enough power to create a primordial ooze ... The CEO needs to be the CIO." Aditya Ghosh, CEO of IndiGo, leads the charge on creating a culture of innovation at the fast-growing Indian airline, where employees at all levels are unafraid to make mistakes and think outside the box. The most important way to prime for culturally intelligent innovation is for the leadership to surround themselves with a diversity of perspectives, utilizing that breadth to drive their own innovative approaches. Innovation needs to be built into every person's role and across all the systems and processes for product development and implementation. Images, signs, town hall meetings, and written messaging need to be used to keep everyone's attention on the customers of tomorrow. What will diverse consumers' needs be in five years? What bold attempts (and failures) have been used to go after diverse users in the past? How can those be celebrated and used to inform the future? Discussion about these questions helps direct attention toward culturally intelligent innovation.
Become conscious of blind spots
Tap into the power of attention by becoming more aware of your subconscious. If you haven't been exposed to the groundbreaking work on unconscious bias, start there. Take one of the tests at Project Implicit (projectimplicit.org) and consider which groups of people you find most difficult to trust. How might that difficulty connect to a deeply rooted bias? And how might it be closing you off from innovative breakthroughs? Don't be too quick to answer. Check out Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald's book Blindspot, the best book I've read on this subject, presenting this fascinating research in very practical ways. By becoming more aware of unconscious bias, you begin to retrain the mind to open yourself and others up to learning from the perspectives of people whom you may otherwise tune out.
Train yourself (and others) to think differently
The brain is an amazing organ, and we can train it to be consciously thinking about innovation through things as simple as taking a different route to work or shifting around our morning routine. One of the best ways to consciously innovate is to disrupt your habits at least once a day. Make a habit of forcing yourself out of autopilot. Change up your morning routine. Drive to work a different way. Work from a different space. Don't always run your meetings the same way or in the same place. Ask team members to work differently from their typical patterns. When your team comes up with a solution, stop and ask each other whether this is the best option or whether a third alternative is worth exploring.
Beware your gut
The gut can be a shockingly reliable mechanism for decision making. Our subconscious has been programmed over time. When assessing a familiar situation, the gut often leads to a better result than spending hours reviewing pros and cons. But the gut is subject to enormous error when the cultural context changes, and as a result innovative solutions are often missed. Consult with others and consciously suspend trusting your gut. Questions your assumptions and pro-actively seek out third-way solutions.
If all the world is a stage, where do you shine the spotlight of your attention? When you forget the name of the person you just met or can't find your keys, it's unlikely you're "losing it." It's more probable that you weren't paying attention when she introduced herself or when you set your keys down. The spotlight of your attention was turned elsewhere.
Is innovation nurture or nature? There may well be certain individuals who possess a unique capacity to think creatively and go beyond the norm. But all of us and our teams and organizations can become far more creative simply by becoming more conscious of innovation. Every time you make a decision, stop and ask yourself whether there's another way. If you lead an organization or team, create a culture that continually asks for a third solution rather than picking between either/or choices. Tap the brain's ability to see things in a new light and you'll be amazed how much more creative the results are, simply by spending more time consciously looking for alternative solutions.
Excerpted with permission from Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity. David Livermore is president of the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Mich., and a visiting research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.