My innovation keynote speech for the Proctor and Gamble International Engineering Summit focused on the importance of diversity for innovation. Not just gender diversity, but all kinds of diversity. Diversity of culture, gender, age, race, education, and experience are considered surface diversity.

Deep-Level Diversity Important for Innovation

But it’s even better if you can also implement deep-level diversity based on things like values, skills, personality, attitudes, and diversity of thought. Many years of research has proven that diverse groups are more innovative than homogeneous groups. It makes sense that creative problem solving requires looking at a situation from as many different angles as possible. People who solve problems in groups bring different information, perspectives and opinions.

Scientists Solve Complex Problems

After a recent innovation keynote speech given at Novartis Pharmaceuticals, I had a chance to mingle and network with the scientists afterwards. These people solve big problems that affect people all around the world. It’s a huge task to solve those big problems all at once. They have to imagine all possible outcomes in advance. It’s easier if you can break them down into smaller parts and figure out which ones hold the key to the solution. It’s easier to solve the problem if you can look at it from different angles.

Put a 26-year-old biology student from India, a 53-year-old chemist from France, and a 70-year-old immunologist from Idaho in a room to solve a problem. You will get three different ways of looking at the problem. You will be able to dig deeper and come up with ideas you could never get in a homogenous room of the same gender, race, culture, and age. All of these people have different strengths, skills, and opinions. They will all ask different questions. A diverse team is better able to generate new research methods.

I’ve heard scientists say that when they work with more diverse teams they are more likely to prepare more thoroughly than normal. They feel like they are challenged and pushed beyond their comfort zone. The deeper you have to dig for the answer to a problem, the more likely you are to find better answers. You’ll find better answers than the same ones that everyone else comes up with.

Mechanical Engineering is a Diverse Field

Mechanical engineers take a product from a grain of an idea to a working product that can be sold to consumers. I may be able to invent products, but I often need the help of a mechanical engineer to make sure the product works the way it should. They have to be creative under limited constraints.

Mechanical engineers have to be able to determine the forces and thermal environment that a product will encounter. They have to design products for durability, functionality, and aesthetics. I love speaking to scientists and engineers because they already know the value of creativity and innovation.

The more diverse an engineering team is, the more options are being brought to the table. If everyone on the team brings different life experiences, the odds of coming up with more creative solutions increases. If you bring both surface and deep-level diversity into the room it opens up endless possibilities. Each person will approach a product in a different way and would use that finished product differently. This is important because products are made for all types of people in diverse cultures.

Hire Diversity for Innovation

Even though we know that diversity is important for innovation, we still have a ways to go in the workforce to fulfill that void. It’s up to the managers and executives to step out of their own comfort zones. Hire people who are different from them in as many ways as possible. This is easier said than done, as we tend to want to surround ourselves with people who think like we do. But for a more innovative workforce, that’s what needs to be done.