The Link Between Team Diversity and Innovation

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Range" by David J. Epstein. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How are team diversity and innovation connected? How can working abroad increase one’s chances of making an impactful discovery?

In his book Range, David Epstein discusses the link between team diversity and innovation. Epstein says that the more diverse the backgrounds of the team members, the greater the chance they will make a discovery or innovation

Here’s David Epstein’s argument.

Team Diversity and Innovation

In Range, David Epstein explores the connection between team diversity and innovation. He encourages leaders of innovative companies to bring together diverse teams of members from different backgrounds.

Team members with diverse backgrounds bring together diverse ideas, making it more likely that they’ll come up with something new. Epstein notes that for this reason, scientists who have worked abroad at some point in their lives, on average, make more impactful discoveries.

Diverse team members are also more likely to bring conflicting values which, when expressed constructively, contribute to a healthy tension, as we just discussed. The diverse superforecasting teams we mentioned earlier are particularly good at this.

Epstein asserts that diversity can be discovered even within a single organization. In the most effective organizations, team members frequently work with new collaborators, assisting departments outside of their specific area of expertise. In contrast, clustering into small teams that rarely interact or exchange members stifles creativity.

Reconciling Differences

True diversity of ideas in the workplace necessarily requires a constructive approach to conflict and dissent. It’s easy for differences between people to spark division and hurt rather than innovation. In the seminal 1999 work Nonviolent Communication, psychologist Marshall Rosenberg offers a detailed step-by-step guide to ensuring that conflicts are resolved in a compassionate and productive way.

Express your own needs without making demandsIdentify the other person’s needs

Verify that each of you understands the other’s needs

Express empathy for the other person’s pain or frustrationPropose solutions that meet each person’s needs

As these steps indicate, the heart of nonviolent communication is human connection. Mutual understanding and compassion put greater emphasis on both parties’ similarities than their differences, taking some of the friction out of diversity.
The Link Between Team Diversity and Innovation

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Here's what you'll find in our full Range summary :

  • Why it's better to be proficient in a range of skills rather than becoming a specialist in one
  • Why you're never “too late” to pursue something you’re interested in
  • Why the nontraditional background of a generalist gives them an edge

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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