Diversity of Diversities: Inclusiveness of Inclusions – both needed for business innovation

There’s a law in thermodynamics which is called the law of requisite variety. The law says that any system will die when its variety is not at least as varied as its environment. Simply, you need diversity to survive when your environment is diverse; and our environment’s diversity has increased dramatically.

Perhaps most importantly in the context of what we are trying to achieve, you absolutely need diversity for innovation.

Diversity presents wider arrays on novel ideas and makes the likelihood of combining two or more insights to solve a problem much greater, which is a genuinely rare occurrence. If you can begin to match the diversity present on a global scale with the diversity in a particular group, that group can begin to communicate more effectively internally and externally.

An interesting way to think about diversity is to consider inclusion as what we share and diversity as what we don’t share – or don’t have in common. If you only focus on what you don’t share, then that’s another word for chaos. And if you only look at what you share, you get a very non-diverse environment.

So in between inclusion and diversity, we get what we technically call dilemma reconciliation. That is where you find a joint solution built from shared opinions. Dilemma thinking is crucial in the link between diversity and inclusion. Diversity is having different viewpoints and inclusion is the process of getting together to create a new reality beyond the two separate realities.

To paint a picture, diversity swings at the bottom of pendulum but you need a nail at the top as an anchor point, that’s inclusion. The quality of the rope connecting what you share and where you’re different is leadership. The essence of leadership is to distinguish a problem from a dilemma and when it’s a dilemma created by diversity you need to reconcile to become more inclusive. The question becomes how do you that?

I very much build my recommendations on an article by Thomas and Ely, Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity[1], which distinguishes three levels of effective diversity.

The first step is compliance but if you stop there then you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s not good enough to select females because they’re females, you need to select them because they bring something to the table as a part of their rich array of talents. The problem is, if you don’t start with compliance then nothing will change. If you keep the power with white males then, often unconsciously, they will continue to hire the same type of people. So compliance is the first step.

Secondly you need to ensure that you make use of the diverse competencies you have acquired. Place people in work environments where they will excel, making use of their skills in areas that lack their point of view. It makes sense to provide people with opportunities in which they can excel, rather than excluding them on the basis that they don’t perform well elsewhere.

There also needs to be a third step where you make diversity an issue of your strategy in terms of innovation, mirroring the market and being creative, with less group think. This is the opportunity that needs to be taken, the opportunity to link our diversity initiatives to business problems instead of trying to tackle such a complex issue head-on, in its own right.

There was a time we would say okay, we’ll run a program on gender, then sexual orientation then generations, the list goes on. The problem is that diversity is so complex. For example, if you have a young, American female talking to an old, Ghanaian male and they are struggling to reconcile their viewpoints, what is causing what problem? Is it the role of men and women? What about young and old? What about nationalities? You cannot chunk people into little pieces.

The key is to start with a challenge, link it to a business issue and work on the challenge rather than always saying “oh that’s a gender issue” or “that’s a generational issue”. Start with the business issue and diversity should be the conclusion.


Fons Trompenaars is known all over the world for his work as consultant, trainer, motivational speaker and author of many books on the subject of culture and business. He has spent over 25 years helping Fortune 500 leaders and professionals manage and solve their business and cultural dilemmas to increase global effectiveness and performance, particularly in the areas of globalisation, mergers and acquisition, HR and leadership development.


[1] David Thomas and Robin Ely, Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity, Harvard Business Review, September-October 1996, pp. 79 – 90.

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