The following is Part I of a Q&A with David Livermore, author of DRIVEN BY DIFFERENCE: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity (AMACOM February 2016). Below, Livermore discusses why “diversity” in numbers is only step one towards a truly diverse–and effective–workplace. Stay tuned for Part II next week.
Q: What prompted you to write this book?
A: I’m insatiably curious. That’s what drives any research or writing project I pursue. And the same is true for this book. I was reviewing some of our research that revealed a troubling finding—homogenous teams often perform better than diverse teams do. Homogenous teams get things done more quickly and, as a result, they consistently come up with more innovative solutions than diverse teams do when left to themselves. That’s not a very popular message in an age when everybody is talking about the importance of diversity.
However, diversity unquestionably offers a rich resource for innovative solutions. It’s just that it’s not automatic. It requires a culturally intelligent strategy for effectively using a team’s diversity to come up with more innovative solutions. Our research findings revealed some recurring practices that are essential for tapping the potential of diversity. I wasn’t content to simply see those findings reported in the tables of an academic journal. I wanted to see these insights help teams and organizations in the real world.
Q: You argue that hiring a diverse workforce is not sufficient. Why not?
A: If you’ve ever had a roommate, not to mention a spouse, you probably know the answer to this. “Different” ways of doing things is a novelty at first, but under stress, they often become the source of conflict and annoyance. It’s easier to work with people who think, act, and behave the same as us. So simply hiring a more diverse workforce is not sufficient. And it can actually make productivity and innovation worse.
Our research reveals that cultural intelligence is the moderating factor in whether diversity is an asset or liability for innovation. Cultural intelligence (CQ®) is a research-based measurement that predicts how an individual will work and relate with people from different cultural backgrounds. Diverse teams comprised of members with low CQ, significantly underperform homogeneous teams. But diverse teams comprised of members with moderate or high CQ, significantly outperform homogenous teams on pretty much every measurement—not the least of which is innovation.
Q: In the book, you mention a vital area of concern – diversity fatigue. What is diversity fatigue and how should it be addressed in the workplace?
A: Many individuals, particularly in workplaces across North America and Western Europe, can’t bear the thought of one more diversity workshop. Shame and an emphasis upon punitive measures for not embracing diversity are prevalent in many approaches to this topic and that rarely brings about lasting change. Other times, diversity measures are viewed as solely being about compliance or as having little to do with bottom line results.
On a brighter note, many organizations have moved toward an emphasis on teaching about unconscious bias—the automatic impulse an individual associates with certain cultural groups. I’m a big supporter of this effort and we’ve collaborated with some of the leading researchers at Harvard in this space.
Awareness is the first step, but it’s not enough. The question I often hear is I know my biases, so now what? This is where cultural intelligence (skills) comes in. And then teams need to develop a strategy for using a fusion of their cultural differences to drive innovative results. Together, these solutions offer a fresh, sophisticated way of approaching diversity.
DAVID LIVERMORE, PH.D., is President and Partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center, a consultancy at the forefront of CQ assessment and development. The author of Leading with Cultural Intelligence, he has been cited by The Economist, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.