Thursday, Jul 18, 2024

Madison Avenue Insights

 The Yin and Yang of Diversity


That’s how, at the end of the previous column, I answered the question as to whether there is an alternative to diversity for generating creative ideas that generate innovations that generate better ROIs, IPOs, etc.

But why walk away from diversity so quickly?

There are reams of research that exalt the merit of diversity. I mentioned McKinsey and others Here are a few more proving that having multi-cultural teams will not only expand your appreciation for foreign cuisines (expanded waistline included), but will also expand your bottom line.

For example, a 2009 analysis of 506 companies found that firms with more racial or gender diversity had more sales revenue, more customers, and greater profits. A 2016 analysis of more than 20,000 firms in 91 countries found that companies with more female executives were more profitable. In a 2011 study, management teams exhibiting a wider range of educational and work backgrounds produced more-innovative products.

Innovation, Management, Policy & Practice did a study of gender diversity in 4,277 companies in Spain. Results: Companies with more women were more likely to introduce radical new innovations into the market over a two-year period.

In a study based on 7,615 firms that participated in the London Annual Business Survey, the results again showed that companies run by culturally diverse teams were more likely to develop new products than those with homogenous leadership.

So why walk away? You should have no doubts about the value of diversity.

Forgive my sneaky sleight of hand, but here is why you should have not just doubts, but grave doubts.

A meta-analysis of 108 studies and more than 10,000 teams with higher diversity revealed that yes, diversity created a flow of creative ideas, but in the final tally, they produced fewer results than homogeneous teams.

According to McKinsey, 94% of executives are dissatisfied with their firms’ innovation performance. Across industries, one survey after another has found the same thing: Businesses just aren’t getting the impact they want, despite all their diversity.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Huh?

Obviously, there is a divide between those who benefit from diversity and those who do not.

Obviously, there is a yin and yang – contrary forces within the same element.

What separates success from failure?

The key to diversity is the framework of diversity.


Diversity is built into the team structure.

Built into teams is the source of conflict that prevents teams from being effective.


(More huhs and sighs…)

Diversity can produce corrosive conflict. Team members bring their friendly smiles into the room, but they also bring diverse values, diverse behavior patterns, diverse work patterns. They bring into the room myriad cultural, lifestyle and workstyle elements that could challenge collaborative synergy – not to mention diverse personalities that could quantumly expand that challenge.

Need examples? A hall-of-fame baseball player/coach known for his aggressive behavior on the playing field coined a phrase, “Nice guys finish last.”

Executives from Asian countries like Japan and Vietnam, out of culturally ingrained politeness and deference, will refrain from sharing their perspectives. More so if they are new to the team or are in a junior role.

US, Western Europe, and even Scandinavian executives will have no such restraint, assertively dominating the conversation, burying the perspective of their Asian counterparts.

Yes, all the team members will most likely speak English to some degree. However, idioms, inflections, accents, slang, and words that represent different ideas based on context hinder clear and effective communications. As Winston Churchill has been quoted, “England and America are two nations divided by a common language.” Ever converse with a Scotsman, Cockney from East London, or Yorkshireman? There are only so many times you can politely ask him to repeat himself – and then when he does so, you’re back to the same confused state.

Beyond the spoken word, there are other forms of communication that hinder effective teamwork. Physical spacing, eye contact, and gestures resonate differently across cultures. A simple example: Step into an elevator and try to stand as far apart as possible from other passengers. In Japan, doing so is a sign of disrespect; Japanese will stand closely together, leaving a wide swath of empty space. Punctuality is a synonym for German, whereas Brazilians will come late and expect the meeting to run late. In America, business casual is accepted. In France, low-ranked executives place a priority on dressing well. Italian businesspeople expect elegance from their business colleagues. In China, dressing conservatively makes a good first impression.

Working procedure varies greatly between cultures. Asian and South American countries value collective consensus; all are equal. Many cultures emphasize respect for senior, more experienced team members and consider it a serious breach of etiquette to question them. Americans and Germans value the individual and are freely outspoken.

Diversity brings a minefield of cultural norms that present a forbidding challenge to collaborative teamwork.

The difference between companies that achieve success through diversity and those that don’t is the ability to build teams where the challenge of diversity is overcome so that the true potential of the diversity is achieved through seamless teamwork.

The key is leadership.

How easy is that? Business often turns to sports when it comes to understanding how to build effective teams. In sports, team members bring cultural diversity, egos, values, ambition, and character flaws into every team gathering, similar in many ways to business meetings. In the 55-year history of the Super Bowl, out of 1,760 NFL coaches, only 34 have won the coveted trophy. Out of those 34, only 13 have won the trophy more than once.

The quality of a company’s team leadership is a deciding factor in whether team diversity will be effective or a hindrance.

So, the answer as to whether you should have a United Nations in your conference room comes down to this: How effective are you in building an effective team?

If you feel that you are fully qualified to lead your team to a Super Bowl trophy, read no further. (But don’t wear your best suit – tradition demands that winning coaches get drenched in a barrel of Gatorade and magnums of champagne.)

If you do have a doubt or two, as I said, there is an alternative.

What is the principle goal of diversity?

Different perspectives leading to creative ideas.

Harvard Business Review cuts to the chase: Circumvent the Berlitz courses, the cultural training, the standing for 8 national anthems before every meeting. Why not just hire creative people?


A quick and short primer on how you think.

I haven’t met you, but I have no doubt that you think congruently.

Why am I so sure? Because I have no doubt you went to school. Hence, I have no doubt you were graded. Hence, I have no doubt that your thinking pattern was shaped to take the available data and arrive at the correct answer or solution.

Let me emphasize the one correct answer or solution.

For your ongoing life through your career, this congruent thinking process, this all-consuming search for that one right answer or solution, was reinforced through report cards and company evaluations.

This thinking process was further reinforced by the fear and embarrassment of being wrong in front of peers, your employer, and, most terrifying of all – your children.

That one right answer dominates your quest.

You are not seeking diverse perspectives. You are accumulating all the known facts, analyzing the data, and working your way through to what you perceive is the right answer or solution

You are not searching for ideas. You are searching for an answer.

But what you never see are all the right ideas that are above you, beneath you, and around you. All the right ideas that come from different ways of understanding the problem, seeing the options, exploring all ideas no matter how sane or insane, how logical or illogical, how relevant or irrelevant.

You are not seeing that there are numerous right ideas, each potentially leading to that out-of-the-box idea leading to solutions and innovations that fuel growth.

You are not seeing what creative thinking sees. A diversity of ideas.

Which is exactly what you expect to see through diversity.

So as the Harvard Business Review points out, why not cut to the chase and hire creative people? Creative people are divergent thinkers. Their starting point is to look outside the box at an almost limitless number of possibilities. They explore beyond the narrow confines of the data and analysis; their imagination travels everywhere, seeking diverse options.

Each creative person brings the United Nations into the conference room.

Hmmm… Hiring people both creative and suitable for the tasks within your company is not so simple.

Alternatively, learn to think creatively. Easier and faster than mastering 8 foreign national anthems. Before you jump in and say that you are not creative, understand, as I’ve pointed out in previous columns, that playing the violin like Yitzhak Perlman, singing like Pavarotti, and painting like Picasso are all G-d-given talents – which are in no way related to creative thinking. Creative thinking, like congruent thinking, is a thinking process.

As Edward de Bono, a pioneer in neuroscience and the workings of the brain, pointed out, “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. “

Sounds exactly like the goal of diversity.

Is creative thinking effective? Does it in fact lead to out-of-the-box ideas that lead to innovations? Albert Einstein had something to say about that.

“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”

Something to think about.


Interested in developing your creative thinking skills to grow your business? Maybe even disrupt your business category? Subscribe to my “Unleash Your Creative Thinking” free email course. Email, with “Creative Thinking” as the subject.

Chanina Katz has over two decades experience in major Madison Ave. ad agencies developing highly successful strategies and award-winning campaigns for such blue-chip clients as Colgate, RJ Reynolds, Hilton, Home Depot, General Mills, KFC and many others in a wide variety of package goods and services businesses. He provides marketing services for a range of businesses, from start-ups to major corporations. He lectures on marketing and creativity. He can be reached at





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