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Unlocking Creativity Through Diversity

Diverse group of people looking serious.

LinkedIn crowned Creativity as 2019, 2020, and 2021’s #1 soft skill for professionals after analyzing hundreds of thousands of job postings to determine which skills companies need most this year.

So how do we tap into our creativity? An essential capacity component is divergent thinking—knowing there’s not one right answer or one way of looking at things. And a key to doing this at work is collaborating in diverse teams that embrace many perspectives.

The Key to Creativity is Diversity: Great Minds Don’t Think Alike

A Cloverpop study analyzed approximately 600 business decisions made by 200 different business teams in a wide variety of companies over two years. They found:

  • Inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time.
  • Decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60% better results.
  • Teams that follow an inclusive process make decisions two times faster with half the meetings.

In short, great minds don’t think alike. Diversity leads to more creativity and success.

Unlocking Creativity Through Psychological Safety

Diversity alone will not unlock creativity and maximum performance. We need to create a space for all to freely share their ideas. A 2017 Harvard Business Review study found that in order for diverse teams to be successful, it requires all to feel safe to be themselves aka, “psychological safety.” This is fostered through:

  • Accepting differences of opinions: Harvard Business School Professor, Frances Frei, recommends that you ask this question the next time you’re collaborating on a solution, and everyone agrees: “Can anyone articulate an alternate point of view?” We need to diverge before we can converge. We need to seek alternate views one could have to come up with the best solution.
  • Accepting the new: We need to feel safe to try new things in new ways without fear of repercussions. Risk and failure are a necessary part of the creative process. We don’t get anywhere new unless we step out of the familiar. A way to practice getting comfortable accepting the new is by having one new experience a month (e.g., try new food, visit a new place). This was my new year’s resolution in 2014, and it massively boosted my creativity. Read about my five steps for hacking creativity here.

Through psychological safety, we can create a space for all to feel comfortable to throw out their ideas and not be afraid to fail. But we also need everyone’s ideas to be weighed fairly.

Unlocking Creativity Through Fairness

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Steve Jobs, the Founder of Apple, said, “Creativity and innovation are the result of connecting past experiences. But if you have the same experiences as everyone else, you’re unlikely to look in a different direction and think differently.”

Basically, creativity is the mental process in which two or more “dots” of information connect in your mind to create a new and useful idea. The more dots of past experiences you have, the more opportunities you have to come up with new ideas. That's another reason why accumulating new experiences boosts creativity.

Now, multiply that exponentially if everyone’s unique dots of experiences are weighed equally with fairness. Let’s say your teammate, Neha, has 20 dots that are different than the rest of the team, and Emma in your company has 18 different dots as well. That gives us a much bigger puzzle of creative ideas to connect when we have all those dots!

Notice in this photo above, the dots are not in a triangle of hierarchy with one idea at the top, but all are weighed fairly across the board. So next time you’re in a meeting, demonstrate that diverse opinions have value by repeating them and building on them as the discussion evolves. The multiplier effect only works when we treat all dots as equal. Only then can we connect them to form new, creative ideas.

Unlocking Creativity Through Diversity Starts with You

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Companies are the most creative and successful when there are more unique dots of experiences to connect. The more dots of diverse perspectives we have in the room, the more creative ideas we can generate. But in order to foster diverse teams, we need psychological safety. It requires us to collaborate with those who are different, which can be difficult at times. But it starts with us honoring the diversity within ourselves.

So, how can you create psychological safety at your workplace? What are your unique dots of experiences? Are you willing to share those dots with your team and, in turn, value the dots of others to generate creative ideas? If so, you will unlock creativity through diversity that starts with you.


About Aiden Yang: 

Aiden is an engaging speaker on creativity, diversity, and storytelling. He’s delivered talks to global audiences at Grace Hopper Celebration, Cisco, Oracle, Lesbians Who Tech, and Women Who Code. Aiden recently published The Spineless Porcupine, a whimsical all-ages fable exploring diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

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