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True Innovation through Digital Participation

Study after study shows that a diverse workforce and diverse management teams are more creative, innovative and successful. But diversity is just part of the puzzle. For a company to be truly innovative, the platform for new ideas to emerge must be open and accessible to all.

01 February 2021 • 4 min read

Listen now to Tijen’s article: True Innovation through Digital Participation

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We don’t always know what is around the corner. Unforeseen events such as the current Coronavirus crisis can, and likely will, reoccur. The important question, and not only for companies, is therefore how best to prepare for such scenarios.

Although we cannot predict the future, we can do everything possible to ensure our survival now. A key factor here is innovation. Many companies are relying on digitisation and new technologies to generate more innovation. In doing so, they often overlook two central aspects: diversity and digital participation.

Technology and tools alone do not enable innovation

The last few months have been a great challenge for all people and all companies and took everybody by surprise. But something else has also become apparent. This crisis is also a lesson in innovation because everyone had to adapt in the face of the pandemic. Many things became possible, which had long been considered impossible. New tools and infrastructures created the framework for digital work.

It became clear that this was far from being just about introducing new technologies. Working in a home office not only requires the ability to use new software and work at a different location, the digitalisation of the world of work also means more self-structuring and more personal responsibility. Other positive effects of virtual collaboration are faster decision-making processes and more freedom in shaping one’s own everyday life.

But all these positive and welcome developments aside, something else became more apparent: digitisation is only the first step.

The introduction of digital tools alone does not lead to more innovation. To ensure the sustainability of companies, the corporate culture itself must become innovative. And this only happens by being diverse and inclusive.

The link between diversity and innovation

So, what is the key to innovation and creativity? The short answer is diversity. The connection between diversity, innovative strength and economic success has been proven by numerous studies, all showing that a diverse workforce and diverse management teams are more creative, innovative and successful. Why is this so?

Working in a diverse team means more individual input. People with a different background will inevitably have a different worldview, so the greater diversity of social circles, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and ability/disability, the richer and more varied the experiences, knowledge and skills on which to draw. In this way, they bring diverse ways of thinking and different perspectives into the work. This leads to more confrontation, more contradiction, more questions and discussions – creating more new and innovative ideas. In other words, if a variety of people do not sit around the table together, it’s much harder to create real innovation.

The introduction of digital tools alone does not lead to more innovation – the corporate culture itself must become innovative. And this only happens by being diverse and inclusive.

Diversity alone is not enough

Diversity is only one of the building blocks for innovation, albeit an especially important one. The current crisis has shown that there can be no diverse work culture without digital participation and inclusion.

This became apparent when considering older employees who weren’t raised with digital media. The rapid introduction of new technologies by no means guaranteed equal participation in the new work processes, and it cannot be assumed that they will be able to use the new tools efficiently. Diversity and inclusion must, therefore, always go hand in hand.

Only digital participation creates the space for innovation

In addition to the digitisation of the world of work and diversity, digital participation plays a vital role in the innovative power of organisations.

This means companies must create spaces and freedom that enable employees to exchange new ideas. It is not enough to provide a new tool for this; it must be equally possible for everyone to actively and productively use them. Digital participation comes about through the enabling and empowerment of people.

Nobody should feel excluded, if innovation is to be upheld and promoted through digitisation.

This is precisely the point in the current crisis at which, in my experience, the most difficulties arose. Many organisations overlooked the fact that people need to be equipped with the expertise to use the new tools. If innovation is to be upheld and promoted through digitisation, nobody should feel excluded. Real innovation always needs both diversity and digital participation. In other words, without inclusion, there can be no true innovation.

Innovation, diversity and inclusion as the key to sustainability

The World Economic Forum recently published an overview of which skills will be essential in the coming years. It is noteworthy that innovative capacity is the top priority. The ability to learn to use new technologies and cope with complex challenges and situations will also become increasingly important in the future. What does all this mean for the current situation and the sustainability of companies? First of all, it means that there will be no return to a world without digitalisation. Our current reality, taking shape at an accelerated pace, will inevitably become the “new normal”.

For companies, this most unquestionably means focusing on diversity, empowering employees and equipping the workforce with all the necessary skills needed for an innovative work environment. Digitisation, diversity and inclusion must go hand in hand so that new tools and technologies can be used for their intended purpose: creativity and innovation.

Diversity, equity & inclusionEXInnovationTeam dynamic