The second most common theme at FastCo's Innovation Festival was diversity. This has long been a trending topic in the public discourse and it was refreshing to see diversity unabashedly taken up by many of the presenters at FCNY. Instead of looking at diversity as a morally or socially driven priority, those who brought it up cited diversity as a critical factor in driving innovation.
Samantha Bee, host of TBS’ hit late night show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, laid it all bare when she said, “[h]iring people like you actually hurts you. It limits you.” A writer’s room with a diverse group of people around the table will produce jokes, insights, and commentary that not only better reflect the audience, but also pushes the team itself. Bee’s show covers a wide breadth of topics, but she says that, “[t]he best stories are the ones where we’re all learning.” Instead of living in an echo chamber of similar senses of humor, Bee and her team thrive on the inspiration that comes from exposure to a variety of perspectives.
While it makes sense that comedy would benefit from diversity, it might seem that obstacle courses are a tougher sell. And yet the value of a diverse staff is not lost on Founder and CEO Will Dean and his team at Tough Mudder. His brand is notorious for revealing new and exciting obstacles each year. Dean credited this ingenuity to diversity: “Coming up with interesting new challenges every year comes from diversity where people question the rules.” This appreciation was carried forth by his President and COO Adam Slutsky, who praised the “amazing things” their diverse staff does for their culture and communities. Much like internal valorization, the benefits of a diverse team ripple out to consumers.
And different backgrounds don’t just breed different perspectives, (in turn enabling innovation). Frequently, diversity within a brand creates room for consumers seeking vastly different entertainment. WNYC’s portfolio of radio programs and podcasts spans from Radiolab to 2 Dope Queens to Note to Self. Hiring and featuring a diverse array of voices enables the broadcasting program to reach people where they are in the increasingly saturated market of podcasts in a way the radio station wouldn’t if they focused on a singular type of voice. And WNYC isn’t stopping at what they have now. When asked what keeps WNYC’s Chief Content Officer Dean Cappello at night, he simply responded, “[f]inding talent.”
What these leaders made clear is that diversity does not only have a commercial value. While talking about rebuilding trust between communities and the judicial system, panelists (including the surprise guest musician and activist John Legend) spoke to the role tech can have in surmounting the barriers between people. Malika Saada Saar, Google’s senior counsel on civil and human rights, insisted that, “ [e]very act of human rights violation [...] happens in silence and isolation. The more digitally connected we are, the more we can see how eachother lives. We can digitally bear witness.” Ignoring the tech focus, Saada Saar’s driving idea is that diversity provides a platform to more and more voices, connecting and ensuring the continued well-being of all.
Arguably an extension of our first principle, diversity in a brand inspires innovation, connection, and social progress. As such, it is a powerful take away from Fast Company’s Innovation Festival. Next week we’ll be looking at the third learning we gathered: cross industry collaboration.
Authored by CBA Brand Strategist, Chelsea Brown