Leverage diversity in creating new value spaces.
In Part One (click here for part 3), we looked at the importance of empathy to the human condition and how, by extension, it may be utilised to strengthen business relations through the practice of Business Design. This article focuses on Business Design’s second mode of being: conceptualisation and, in particular, on some of its most powerful tools, co-creation and collaboration.
Since Business Design is concerned with the creation of new value spaces, the conceptualisation and visualisation of breakthrough ideas is integral to the process. In the pursuit of new value, connecting the dots hidden within the primordial soup of information, existing knowledge, and undisclosed mystery requires the accessing of creative tools that sets us humans apart. In a sense, our creativity resides in our unique individual abilities for pattern recognition and expression. Our ability to dream and imagine new things is on one hand our strongest and most beautiful trait but on the other is juxtaposed by our preference for rationalistic, proof-based thinking.
Not to knock science, in the irrational world we find ourselves experiencing, the past is a poor predictor of the future, other than the future preceded by our committed pursuit of choices made in the present. It is after all, only through imaginative thought that advances in science have sprung; the antithesis seems less plausible. In the wake of industrialism and its desire for learned processes, there seems a dire need to rediscover our creative selves. The solutions we rehash from the past are becoming ever less relevant in solving the difficult challenges we will face in the not-so-distant future.
But to create alone is to be constrained by our own biases. In the business environment where we seek to create value not only for ourselves, but for the human communities whom we serve, to make isolated business decisions leaves the organisations’ proposition at risk of being irrelevant. Ubuntu honours the contributions of others and upholds the circularity of value in the communal context, within which the organisation also exists.
Co-creation and collaboration are powerful Business Design tools which leverage diverse thinking within teams, end-users and leaders alike to deliver deeply enriched creative options to the challenges being addressed. Inviting stakeholders such as your customers and employees into the development processes of your organisation feeds meaning into your implementation strategies and is extremely useful when incorporated with tools such as early prototyping. Within your organisation, collaborating across departmental structures not only adds diverse perspectives to your ideation processes but has future benefit in promoting a richer, more engaged work environment. Co-creation and collaboration are peas of the same pod and bring communal strength into the organisation. Biases and blind spots are readily handled and the exploration of wider, deeper options are now made possible, making the outcomes at once more meaningful.
Simply put, diversity is a performance multiplier on any team focused toward a desired positive outcome. To be able to successfully leverage diversity though, requires a level of emotional maturity among the participants and brings us full circle to the first tenor of Business Design – empathic engagement. Without the humility to allow and better still encourage creativity in others, the process degrades to individualism or confrontation, as empathy and vulnerability give way to ego and fear. Embracing the humanism espoused by Ubuntu strengthens our resolve to remain empathic in our appreciation of the contributions of others, and strange as Ubuntu may seem in the context of business, fits snug with contemporary business thinking such as servant leadership, the customer-led economy, the social enterprise and of course design thinking. We are beginning to see the iterative nature of the design process. There is no conceptualisation without empathy and vice versa; similarly so with the implementation component of Business Design.
Today’s multicultural cities are hotbeds not only of diversity but also of intent, bolstered by globally mobile and entrepreneurial spirited migrants. It is without surprise that many cities actively pursue diverse talent from across the globe to provide impetus to their own innovation economies. Humans are encoded to work together in as much as we are communal and social animals, but working with group diversity often proves to be problematic despite its potential for strategic advantage. We protect our vulnerabilities behind walls constructed in our minds and barriers to separate ownership. Boundaries ultimately serve only to alienate empathy and create an obstacle between “us” and “them”.
South Africa has its own peculiar fear of diversity. Much has been written about the architecture of Apartheid, the extent to which it has segregated a nation and its continued persistence in the present. Yet, despite our awareness of the facts, we continue to seek solace in our silos and seem willing to create more barriers. Racial and gender diversity in organisations remains lopsided much to the frustration of the born free generation. Yet, in rare moments, South Africans are able to leverage diversity and work together to find shared solutions. The world stood in awe at our finest achievements; the ability to peacefully reorganise a nation in 1994, lift the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and host a record-breaking FIFA World Cup in 2010. How easily it falls apart when our sense of humanity for each other dissipates! Ubuntu transcends culture and rewards the courageous with the possibility of value beyond individual success. To create new value in a difficult economy requires a dogged commitment to innovation and, perhaps more importantly, a willingness to work together to expose the rewards that diverse perspectives can offer. Value cannot exist in isolation and requires willing participants. Value creation, therefore, is brought about by the immersion of these same willing participants in the innovation process.
Innovation may be like mana to a malnourished economy, but the opening up of undisclosed value spaces is peppered, as it should be, by hurdles that test the resolve of both individuals and organisations. Business Design as a methodology, offers at the very least a recipe for introducing innovative thinking into the organisation. Leveraging diversity as an integral ingredient of an innovation strategy may very well be the key to co-creating a better future.
The proof of the pudding, however, resides firmly in the eating.
Jason Falken is a Geospatial and Business Design Professional. He is a 2013 UCT Graduate School of Business MBA alumnus who went on to study Business Design and Integrative Thinking at Rotman School of Management in Toronto, Canada.
This article appeared in the August 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.
Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 3.