How diversity can help brands prepare for tomorrow

I’ve never been more convinced that diversity is essential for successful leadership in times of crisis.” This quote from Lloyd W. Howell, CFO of a Fortune 500 company, confirms what has already been known for a long time, yet has come to the forefront due to the current unprecedented times: team diversity (i.e. combining different backgrounds and experiences) unlocks more and better ideas.

As Howell rightly points out, “during crises, the presence of diversity and the practice of inclusion is essential to challenge us to look at problems differently and consider a wider range of issues and impacts that we might not otherwise”. However, birds of a feather flock together, and the same goes for organizations where people that work in the same environment (unintentionally) adopt a similar frame of reference and similar values, and therefore grow shared biases. Apart from deviating away from certain biases, great power lies in involving a diverse set of people when exploring the solution space. Diversity helps brands navigate the solutions space, fast-forward and prepare for tomorrow.

Diversity trumps ability

The diversity trumps ability’ theorem states that a randomly selected collection of problem solvers outperforms a collection of the best individual problem solvers.

This also goes for ideation initiatives. Ideation is not the sole responsibility of marketing or R&D; at least equally important is the combination of a multitude of perspectives, overarching the wider organization. To benefit from a diversified view, internal ideation sessions ideally engage a broader selection of a company’s internal stakeholder base from various parts of the organization.

The researchers who developed the online game Foldit have well understood the power of involving a diverse crowd in scientific research challenges. In this multiplayer game, gamers try to solve 3D puzzles which represent protein models, to help scientists develop drugs for diseases which proteins play a role in. For over a decade, scientists had been trying to determine the structure of the retroviral enzyme as it unlocks important information about battling the AIDS virus. After 15 years, the researchers presented the problem to the Foldit community, where in less than three weeks two teams came up with a model accurate enough for the scientists to refine and determine the structure of the M-PMV retroviral protease. Similarly, Foldit is currently using the crowd to design new protein drugs in the battle against COVID-19.

Creatives are a rare breed

However, not everyone in the organization has the creative power to get to ideas that spark, let alone in high-pressure situations. Creativity is a rare yet ever-important discipline and a crucial part of the innovation equation. According to the Adobe State of Create report, 73% of businesses consider creativity to be a driver for (financial) success, 50% describe themselves as creative, and 44% say they are living up to their creative potential. Therefore, many organizations tap into creative crowdsourcing, where they open their ideation challenges to external communities of creatives.

You are not your consumer

Marketers and company stakeholders are often not the ones consuming the offerings they develop, nor do they resemble the consumers they serve. But new ideas are sparked in particular by the needs, frictions and aspirations of people who experience your products and services. Companies can bridge this gap by including a consumer perspective in their innovation process. Consumers today do not only want to passively consume; they are also looking for ways to participate in the development and creation of products which are meaningful to them.

An example is the IKEA hackers community, founded by passionate consumers who wanted to share ideas on modifying IKEA furniture. In 2018, the Swedish home goods retailer launched their own initiative, ‘IKEA co-creation’, to collaborate with consumers, university students and innovation labs. Democratizing innovation by user involvement does not only strengthen the consumer-brand relationship, it also comes with financial benefits, with research showing that co-created products are often perceived as more relevant, having a higher perceived quality and generating higher consumer preference.

The power is in the mix

Organizations can clearly benefit from including this outside-in perspective to innovation, yet it is not ‘either the one or the other’. Whilst creative crowdsourcing fuels ideation with fresh ideas and inspiration, internal stakeholders know and understand the bigger picture from a business perspective. This knowledge is key for fleshing out creative ideas and refining those to the point where they can be converted into concrete concepts. The combination of insourcing (i.e. ideation activities involving company stakeholders) and crowdsourcing (involving consumers and creatives) creates a diverse pool of collective wisdom to explore the solution space, thereby leading to more successful innovation.

The power therefore truly lies in the mix, where every perspective can bring fresh sparks to the table. Yet traditionally, firms are not set up to broadcast their inside problems to outsiders. Businesses need a more flexible business model rather than trying to house all talent under one roof. Especially in these unprecedented times, brands can greatly benefit from actively managing the diverse pool of collective intelligence, where crowdsourcing communities supplement the conventional ideation approaches.

Want to read more? Download your copy of our Creative Crowdsourcing bookzine, and find out more about brands across the globe, from KitKat to Volkswagen, Air France-KLM and Royal Canin, and how they are benefiting from the power of the crowd. Or get in touch!

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Filip De Boeck
Global Innovation Expert
Managing Partner

Contact Filip