FRESH THINKING ON DIVERSITY AND INNOVATION: AN INTERVIEW WITH NICOLE HERCUS
Nicole is passionate about helping clients develop a growth mindset and an attitude of curiosity. Both of these attributes enable diversity, and in turn, innovation.
What does diversity mean to you?
If we leverage multiple perspectives on an issue, we generally harness greater wisdom. That broader and deeper wisdom then transforms our own perspective. Overall it results in higher quality thinking.
Diversity and innovation – what’s the connection?
In the past there’s been some thinking that too much diversity creates conflict, and this gave rise to the idea of, for example, recruiting for ‘cultural fit’. This was about not rocking the boat, however I think now we need to rock the boat. We need to stay agile.
The argument for diversity today is that the world is more complex and simplistic thinking doesn't work. The world is always on the move. It’s as if we are continuously riding on a wave of change. This constant change in the environment demands fast-moving innovation. Innovation is the new normal. Solutions need to be high quality and complex, not linear. We need those multiple perspectives.
I’m talking in a general way but anyone who works in a global organisation knows that diversity and innovation are key to success, and to working together.
How does this all play out in your coaching work?
I notice that the most successful businesses are nurturing and harnessing diversity. For this to work, individuals need to develop an attitude of curiosity – call it a growth mindset.
I coach both individuals and organisations. As a coach my role is essentially to support people to grow. As a coach I meet them where they are, and then support them to grow. They have to want to develop a growth mindset – and that’s sometimes part of the conversation we have to have.
Can you give me an example?
Recently I’ve been coaching a leadership team, and in particular the CEO and Chairman of the Board. There were tensions between these two people. They had different perspectives and without a growth mindset it descends into conflict!
It wasn’t the ABC, by any chance?
No but it could have been! Through coaching intervention, they can now leverage the wisdom of both, and find solutions that are not black and white. A huge proportion of my work is in helping improve critical stakeholder relationships in this way. Actually I find it incredible that the leadership at the ABC were at loggerheads for over a year, without intervention.
Do the attitudes of leaders to diversity trickle down through the company?
Absolutely! When my two clients were in conflict, the entire organisation felt the tension. It also impacted on investors, and created confusion generally. Now it’s a different story.
What’s a company that really ‘gets it’ in terms of diversity and innovation?
With Reyna Matthes I’ve been involved in a women’s leadership program at a high profile global FMCG company. This company is doing a wonderful job of driving gender diversity and inclusion. The innovative thinking that has resulted is truly amazing.
What advice do you have for enhancing diversity of thinking?
Three quick ideas:
Be curious about different perspectives on issues.
Actively seek out different perspectives.
Hold your own views lightly. Be open to change.
Diversity is about different perspectives but it’s visible in the form of gender, ethnicity, race etc. Do you think quotas work?
Yes! That has been shown in Northern Europe recently. And look at our own parliament. The problem is not that there’s a dearth of women with merit: they just need a fair opportunity to show what they can do. We have to combat unconscious and conscious bias!
OK so a company builds a diversity of people and perspectives. How do you progress from diversity to innovation?
The definition of innovation is fresh thinking. There are different types of innovation and different requirements at different stages. But essentially it’s about fresh thinking. Diversity accelerates innovation because it’s about fresh thinking. All the latest neuro-science research supports this view. The brain habitually looks to do things via the simplest (most familiar) pathway. So we have to create the conditions for different pathways. We have to unsettle the mind with different viewpoints.
I’ve seen this with that FMCG client company. New neural pathways are created through the stimulus of different viewpoints. People start to think differently and try out new things. People get out of their comfort zones and start to really activate their potential. It’s very exciting.