New Problems Require New Thinking

“Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine” – The Imitation Game, 2014

It is 1939 and Britain is losing ground in the war against Germany because Germany has an unbreakable coding machine – the Enigma. At the same time, Britain has a socio-cultural environment where homosexuality is outlawed, women are allowed to study, but frowned upon if they do anything more than clerical work and particularly if they work alongside men.

In comes an undercover homosexual with Asperger’s-like behaviour, an actively sponsored woman and four other men who fit the mould of what is considered ‘normal’. A period of much interpersonal conflict follows, but five and a half months later, out comes a machine that not only allows the timely decoding of German messages, saving millions of lives and pounds, but also forms the basis for a device we now all take for granted – the computer.

The film “The Imitation Game”, a dramatized version of the work of Alan Turing and his team during the second world war, is a thought provoking depiction of the trials and tribulations of a team that mitigated their biases to hire the best team available and then actively worked to accept each other’s differences and leverage the diversity of thought that became available when difference was valued.

What enigma is your organisation grappling with? Product innovation? Service innovation? Business model innovation? Globalisation? Digitisation? Whatever the enigma, it will not be solved with yesterday’s thinking, but by the collaborative work of teams who value difference and the diversity of thought it brings.

Ensuring that your organisation has what it takes to recruit the best people in the market and then helping teams to value and leverage the difference of people, takes conscious effort. You see, all of us, whether we like it or not, have conscious and unconscious biases about people. Left unmitigated, this keeps us from making the best hiring decisions and impacts our ability to engage, develop and retain people who are different to us. Organisations that mitigate these biases and develop cultures where differences are valued and leveraged report benefits of improved innovation and creativity, new market penetration and customer loyalty, employee engagement and productivity, recruitment and retention of top talent, brand reputation and financial growth.

What does it take to get it right? There is a lot of research into what it takes to embrace difference in this way. This is generally referred to as ‘Diversity and Inclusion’, “Diversity” meaning having people who are different from each other on board and “Inclusion” meaning having a culture where difference is valued and leveraged. To reap the benefits we are talking about here, you need to have both ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’.

Companies that get this right weave diversity and inclusion into every aspect of their business. They have a clear and compelling vision of what they want to achieve with achievable, but stretching goals and measures. The vision, goals, measures, plans and achievements are communicated regularly openly and honestly to all stakeholders. Leaders are educated on the need for diversity and inclusion and they learn strategies for mitigating their own unconscious biases and for helping their teams value and leverage the diversity of thinking in their teams. Leaders and employees are held accountable for implementing diversity and inclusion practices in every touch point with internal and external stakeholders, be they customers, employees, suppliers, partners, shareholders etc.

How diverse is your team? To what extent do members of your team value and work with the different perspectives difference brings?