The famous lyrics from "The Time Warp," the dance ditty from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," include a neat trick for unleashing innovation: by getting out of your everyday habits you can spur diversity in your business, and that can lead to innovation.
Most companies understand the critical link between diversity and innovation, but too often when they work to increase diversity, they focus solely on the makeup of their workforce.
But there is also a lot of untapped potential in expanding the diversity of a creative teams' experiences.
Here are a few practical steps for revving up all aspects of your team's diversity:
1. Search laterally for inspiration (jump to the left)
In the Olympics, when athletic apparel makers were looking to help American swimmers become faster, they took inspiration from some of the best swimmers there are--sharks. A shark's skin has V-shaped scales, called dermal denticles. These cut drag and turbulence, allowing the shark to swim faster. That the shark-inspired suits were promptly banned from international competition only demonstrates how smart the apparel scientists were to do some lateral searching.
This notion of searching for inspiration in a field outside of where you commonly look is powerful. Edward deBono, a doctor and consultant, is famous for promoting the idea of lateral thinking, of training yourself to consider many alternative approaches to a challenge rather than searching for the "right" one.
The jolt of discovery happens to all of us. If you take the same way to work every day, lulled by the routine, you don't look around. But the moment you explore a different road, the novelty makes you think slightly differently.
2. Expose your teams to new thinking (and then a step to the right)
At AARP, one team created a program called Creative Mayhem. It's all about going out and experiencing really new stuff for a couple of days to get your brain thinking creatively. Employees bring back those new insights to see how they might apply them internally.
For instance, a group of AARP employees recently met with curators at the American Portrait Gallery. Their goal was to see how the museum curates art and how the experts bring exhibits to life for their patrons. Our employees, who put together research studies and policy papers, knew they could learn how to better package their materials to drive understanding and action from our members by using some of these methods.
3. Reconsider the everyday for inspiration (with your hands on your hips)
Once you adopt a little lateral thinking, the everyday becomes inspirational. You probably know the story about the invention of Velcro. After a hike one day with his dog, a Swiss scientist removing the burrs that always got stuck to his jacket took a moment and stopped to think about what it was that made them so sticky.
A new baby bassinette from Ford is a modern day version of taking a second look. As many of us know, most babies love cars. Driving through neighborhoods for hours to get a fussy newborn to sleep is almost a right of passage as a parent. But maybe not forever. Ford's sleek bassinette, a prototype dubbed the Max Motor Dreams, is designed to simulate the sounds and motions of a moving car. It's even lined with lights that blink on and off, mimicking the effect of passing under streetlights.
4. Invite in outsiders (you bring your knees in tight)
I never tackle an innovation project at AARP without bringing in a cross-matrix team of people from our foundation, our for-profit, and our non-profit groups of our organization. In fact, I'd prefer that some of the people I bring in have nothing to do with the issue I'm trying to solve. You need different minds to help prompt new approaches.
Practically, that means having one or two people who are experts about what you're trying to hunt around, one or two people who can design the platforms you're trying to create, and then one or two wildcards who have nothing to do with what you are trying to solve, they just bring their life experiences to the table.
So while it's important for organizations to diversify the people within their organizations, it's just as essential to diversify the experiences of that workforce in order to make innovation work. You can't really have one without the other.