Why innovation doesn’t stand a chance

Don’t you find it is ironic that chauvinists – sexists, fundamentalists, misogynists, homophobes, racists, xenophobes, etc. – whether as individuals or groups or nations – also want innovation that will lead them to job-creation and ultimately to socioeconomic progress and prosperity, even though their fundamental attitudes, orientation and practices in life are detrimental to these very things? They want the benefits of being open and welcoming by being closed and unwelcoming. They shut others out but expect the benefits of living together with others. They embrace hate but expect the benefits of love and friendship. Well, I have bad news for them. The world has exhausted its reserves of patience with them. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot have their cake and eat it too.

One of the preconditions for dynamism, creativity, innovation, change and progress is diversity. Diversity is the basic environmental condition for creation and replenishment of life – for example, male-female diversity enables fecundity to create new life. Get rid of one and life is no more. Biologist and environmentalists teach us that reduction of biodiversity is disastrous for all of us – for example, land becomes salty and barren; land erosion sets in; sea levels rise; air pollution plagues the earth; all of which bring doom and death. For those wanting creative and innovative organizations, groups and nations, the lesson to be learned from biological diversity is clear. Open yourself to the world for fresh and exiting ideas and live! Shut the world out, turn inward and die!

In his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, Scott Page has laid to rest the scepticism about the benefits of diversity in groups. He demonstrates in a compelling manner that diverse groups are better to solve problems than monolithic groups. Diverse groups draw on the polyphony of information, wisdom, experiences, perspectives, heuristics, cognitions, disciplines, within their ranks to solve problems – hence, the idiom “the wisdom of crowds”. Successful organizations have discovered the wisdom of crowds and are tapping it to stay relevant and competitive. In his books Where Good Ideas Come From and Future Perfect, Steven Johnson demonstrates how innovation occurs overtime through the coming together and collision of hunches from various individuals and disciplines. A festival and promiscuity of ideas must happen.

This suggest that in order to be more innovative, in order to produce creative ideas that will lead to job-creation and socioeconomic development, organizations, groups and nations need to transform themselves into open, welcoming, diverse and differentiated spaces. This is a hard sell, but if we are to go by what research shows, the course of action is clear. To loathe others because they don’t look, think, talk, or sound like you is a downer for creativity, innovation and progress. To want sameness, similarity, mob-thinking and clones of yourself around yourself is an anathema to development, growth and maturity.

This is a cautionary tale for developing countries debilitated by unemployment and poverty, yet are known for their bigoted orientation toward the world. For example, by making its immigration law more draconian in the name of protecting jobs for the nationals, South Africa shoots itself on the foot and fails to put its money where its mouth is. For all we know, a few years from now unemployment is likely to continue its upswing trajectory. While we as a society are naturally moving toward “diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties”, as the sociologist Norbert Elias points out in his book The Civilizing Process, which is good for social innovation, our reactionary governments seek to arrest this progress.


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