Ep. 24: Diversity at the Heart of the Innovation Engine


8 min read

S?: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.


Toby Mildon: Hello, and thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I'm Toby Mildon, and on this episode, I'm joined by Riccardo Webber. So, hey, Riccardo, welcome to the show.


Riccardo Webber: Hi, Toby. Good afternoon.


Toby Mildon: So Riccardo I've known for many years now, he worked for a major manufacturing and engineering firm, and he brought me in as a guest speaker for a programme that he pioneered called Future Thinking, which is all about equipping people in the organisation to become future leaders for the business. Riccardo then left that particular organisation to go and work for another engineering firm, and he either invited me or I followed him, can't quite remember, but the programme was so successful in his previous place of work that he then implemented it again in his new business where he was the Head of Marketing and Product Development. Riccardo has now set up his own business, which is called True Innovation, and his business is all about enabling organisations to increase their ability to innovate and make strides in things like research and development and things like that.


Toby Mildon: So it's a great pleasure to have Riccardo on the show, because I love talking about innovation, because I think diversity and inclusion really does help businesses to innovate and grow, hence the title of the show, Inclusive Growth. So Riccardo, it's great to have you.


Riccardo Webber: Oh, thank you so much, Toby, that was a really good introduction. Quite happy there. Thank you.


Toby Mildon: I try my best, I try my best. Riccardo, can you just tell us a bit more about your background, how... I suppose a bit more about your career, what led you set up Future Thinking and why you've decided to set up your own business now.


Riccardo Webber: I mean, as you can tell from the name, I'm not the typical British, British person, I'm half-Italian, half-German, so quite a diverse background already, and I've done an engineering and an MBA degree, also quite diverse to what you usually would expect. So with a corporate career that I had in those engineering companies you mentioned, I always tried to simplify things, to take big chunks apart and make them easier to understand, which in itself, you could actually say, maybe this is already innovation, it depends on how you see that. But one of my favourite quotes is, "the man who moved the mountain started with taking away small stones." I just love that.


Riccardo Webber: And this is kind of what I'm trying to do in my whole career as well. This is actually one of the reasons why I founded True Innovation, so I realised in my career, that's what I really enjoyed the most was to develop new ideas and collaborate with other people from different departments, different functions, different backgrounds. And I have this vision in my head now that leaders spending their working hours on truly innovating rather than doing KPIs and presentation slides and Excel spreadsheets all the time, and being able to do that by including everybody in the organisation in the process.


Riccardo Webber: So I've made it my vision to give the leaders the so-called, I call them the three Ts, which is the time, the tools and the thinking space to be able to truly innovate.


Toby Mildon: And like you say, Riccardo, it's about creating that atmosphere where everyone's included in that process, because that's inclusion.


Riccardo Webber: Absolutely.


Toby Mildon: And we talk about... There's notes of benefits to diversity, it's been well documented by the likes of McKinsey, and they've now produced three reports, there's Scott Page, who's an academic over in the States, who's written a great book on this as well. So there's loads of evidence there that diversity and inclusion is great for innovation, it's great for problem-solving, and it's great for decision-making. But from your personal experience and your background of having worked in engineering, setting up your True Innovation business and the methodology that you work with your clients on, what's the relationship for you between diversity, inclusion and innovation? 


Riccardo Webber: I've seen a lot of leaders actually struggling making the time for innovation. It's not that they don't want to do it, it's just one leader that I interviewed recently, he put it absolutely spot on, he said, "The customer of today gets in the way of the customer tomorrow." So it's a lot about short-termism in our organisations and businesses nowadays. And how the link between diversity innovation works for me is, when you think about innovation, I'm again, simplifying it, possibly, but for me, there is a certain input into the innovation process, which is normally creating new ideas, so when you start with those ideas, it's kind of a no-brainer to think that the more ideas you have, the better it is as an input, because you have much more input, and the more varied they are, the better it is.


Toby Mildon: And it's a given fact that the more people you have with more diverse background, the more ideas you get for a given problem, you even actually... Going even a step further back, when you think about innovation and solving problems, with a more diverse group of people, you will even identify more problems out there. If it's only you looking at the world, you might get a certain scope of things, but if you talk to two others, three others, four others, and the more diverse it gets, the better it is to get those issues raised and to think about the solution.


Riccardo Webber: So one is the input into the innovation process, then when you think about the throughput, doing innovation, having more diverse people, and including more people with diverse backgrounds, I think you have many more filters of looking at potential solutions and ideas. You can be much, much stricter with selecting the right solution or the right two solutions, rather than if you have all the same filters that would take you through that funnel. For example, in my previous company, we created a quarterly innovation panel where we had people sitting down looking at engineering prototypes or solutions or proposals, and they weren't engineers. We had a finance guy there, we had somebody from Quality, we had somebody from HR, and they were sitting together and looking at the same problem and the same solution proposal from very different angles, and that was very, very efficient, I have to say.


Riccardo Webber: And then the third thing, then after you have created the ideas, you've worked on the ideas, the output, once you had all the diverse inputs, it's a math game, if you think about it. There's an increased likelihood that the output then is scalable to many more clients, than if you didn't have that much of a diverse input. So it feeds through the whole innovation process, the diversity and, yeah, including diversity into the process makes a lot of sense.


Toby Mildon: I think the biggest risk when we don't have diversity in the process is that we end up with a very limiting product. And I always remember when the air bag was created, I say I remember 'cause I wasn't around when it was created, 'cause I think it was created in the '60s, and I think technically, I'm allowed to call myself a millennial, but when the airbag was created, more women were being injured by airbags going off than men. And that was because it was created by an all-male engineering team, and it was developed with the male body and frame in mind, and so that meant... That the air bag was such a great innovation for road safety and travelling safely in cars, but ironically, something that was designed to protect us and save lives, was actually injuring a huge proportion of society. And I think that's because the people involved in developing the air bag, it was a very homogenous group.


Riccardo Webber: And there's a very funny example of that as well, it's more like a marketing example. Years ago, I can't remember how long ago, but there was a North American car manufacturer that developed this beautiful new car and it was really good. And they really looked at the technology and making a difference there. But I think their marketing team wasn't very diverse, they must have been all North Americans, US Americans, nobody speaking Spanish, so they named the product, the car, in a very certain way, and then tried to sell it in South America, where everybody speaks Spanish and Portuguese. And the work they've given to that car, the name was actually a swear word.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, yeah.


Riccardo Webber: You remember that story, yeah? And all they needed is somebody who speaks Spanish, who could have told them, "Sorry, but you can't sell that." They didn't sell a single car.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, and I imagine that was a very costly mistake financially. They probably put a lot of money into that product development and the marketing campaign, but also in terms of their reputation as well.


Riccardo Webber: Exactly, exactly. Yeah.


Toby Mildon: So you've created the True Innovation model, which is a framework or a model that you use with your clients. Can you just tell us a bit more about what that model is and what goes into it? 


Riccardo Webber: I'll try to describe it as best I can, as you can't see the image of it, but as I said before, I'm trying to break things down. Innovation itself is such a buzzword and everybody understands something different under it. It's difficult to explain. So for me, the True Innovation model explains what innovation is and what affects innovation. There are two parts to it. One part is what I call the innovation engine, which consists of creating ideas and then converting ideas. So you cannot have only one, if you have great ideas, but you don't convert them, you'll never have innovation. If you're really good at converting ideas, but you never have ideas, you're not creating innovation.


Riccardo Webber: So the formula is ideas multiplied by conversion equals innovation. If one of the two parts is zero, you don't get innovation. So the idea generation and conversion is this engine that rotates very, very quickly, ideally, because that generates ideas, converts and generate ideas. This is doing innovation. But this engine isn't suspended in a vacuum, there this, in every organisation, there is a surrounding to it, a context to it, and that consists for me of five parts, and those five-part influence how well this engine spins.


Riccardo Webber: So one is leadership of an organisation, how engaged, how behind innovation is the leadership, are they just talking the talk or are they really walking the walk and supporting the whole organisation in doing innovation. Secondly, and this is like a feature that is undervalued the most, I find, now with my research that I'm doing is communication. How does the business communicate, how do people within the business communicate with each other, is it always up or is it also across, or are you talking only in your silo? Is the communication from the business only top-down or also bottom-up? 


Riccardo Webber: Thirdly, networking, we all talk about individual networking. Yeah, I'm networking with you on LinkedIn or somebody else networks at an event or so, but I think a strong internal network within an organisation enables people to take decisions much, much quicker, to also get information much, much quicker or help much, much quicker. So a strong internal network then increased by strong external networks as well will really help you define innovation and helping create new ideas. To implement all of that, you need a really good change management system. If you have all those ideas and you create innovation but you cannot implement it within your organisation, how you run your business, that slows things down and can actually demotivate strongly.


Riccardo Webber: And then last but definitely not least is what I call culture, the organisational culture and how that influences doing innovation. There's quite a lot of hidden items within culture, almost like this iceberg model, most of the culture you can't really see because it's under water, but it influences everything we do every single day. So all of that together, those five surrounding attributes, influence how quickly our innovation motor, idea generation, idea conversion, can spin or cannot spin. Does that make sense? 


Toby Mildon: Yeah. I mean, the reason why I love your model is because you're thinking those five critical attributes that allow the motor to spin, because when I've talked to people in the past about innovation or I've worked in big companies where we got involved in innovation workshops and creativity workshops, it's all about how many post-it notes you can stick up on the wall, it's not really about the kind of the atmosphere or the environment that you can create to allow innovation to happen.


Riccardo Webber: Exactly. Because that is only generating ideas, but you still have to convert them.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, yeah, and of course, I can totally understand with your engineering background, how you arrived at the... You've got the motor spinning, but then you need to have the actual, I suppose, like the chassis. So you talked to your culture, because actually so much of what you've talked about in your True Innovation model can be applied to diversity and inclusion as well. So in my book, Inclusive Growth, my first chapter is Clarity, which I all about how senior leaders need to be walking the talk to demonstrate why diversity and inclusion is important to the future success of an organisation, and it's not just a box-ticking exercise that you should be doing. Can we do a bit more of a deep dive in culture, because I wrote a chapter in my book on culture, so it's a particular interest for me when it comes to diversity and inclusion. So how do you define culture and how does culture affect innovation in organisations? 


Riccardo Webber: Yeah, the culture bit is the tricky one. How do you define culture? When you think of culture, the first thing that pops, at least into my mind, but possibly also quite a few of your listeners, we're talking about nations or peoples, like there's the distinct... What I hear often is the distinct German culture, "Oh, that's the German in you coming out, Riccardo." Well, I hear that because I'm very, very focused and then like I'm going to the point, and sometimes people might see me as being a little bit rude, but I'm just direct. But if you think about that, it's about the behaviour of a group of people for me, that is what culture is, how they behave and why they behave, how they behave.


Riccardo Webber: And also, I think it was in your book as well, you have... You refer to the Shine model, the three-tiered Shine model, where the base level is basic assumptions that people make, so you can't even necessarily talk about them, 'cause they're just assumptions, they're just there, then a step up are the values that are maybe a little bit more tangible than the assumptions, but they all materialise in those artifacts within an organisation, so I hope I described that the right way. But this is really what a culture is, quite a lot of it, as I said before, it's like under the surface of the water, like the iceberg, and it's about behaviour and feelings of people. So it's really, really tricky to define that. You can understand it when you're more submerged within it, so a new starter to an organisation will struggle in the beginning seeing that cultural bit, they will learn as they progress within the company, but they will see stuff like... And they will pick up notes like when somebody's talking about the director in the corner office and the corner office is the biggest office in the whole building, that's an artifact, that means something.


Riccardo Webber: Or what I realised in one of my previous companies, I opted out of the car scheme and instead of having a big BMW, I came with my Prius, which is a hybrid car. I love hybrids, I'M saving a lot of money on that, but as a director of the business coming in with a hybrid, with a Prius, I got some looks on that, and that is also manifestation of the culture, if you think about it. Yeah, but who cares what car I drive? But they seem to have cared, which was interesting to see. But how does that affect innovation? If you think about it, we're labelling cultures quite a lot, if we're labelling it, as I said, the German culture or there are open cultures, we label sometimes toxic cultures.


Riccardo Webber: For innovation there is, unfortunately, not one-size-fits-all, you always have to see the context of the organisation, how it works. Generally, if I had to generalise, I would say that an open culture, especially when it comes down to generating ideas, is much, much more efficient, including people to generate those new ideas is much, much more efficient. But you also have to have a culture that is driven to then convert those ideas into actual innovation, as I said before, converting those ideas. So if you're only open-minded and oh, everybody come in, let's have a huddle and talk about stuff, that's good at coming up with ideas, but you still have to drive that home and do something with it. So a very well-balanced culture, I think, is what you will need depending on the situation you're in.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. I like what you say about how, I suppose, being more inclusive culturally will help you innovate, and we hear people talk about things like failing fast failing forwards as a culture. Before I set up my own diversity and inclusion consultancy, I worked within user experience and design in technology, and we talked a lot and we did a lot about innovation, and the creative director that I worked for was great at fostering that environment. He said, he would say things like, "There's no such thing as failure. Great things come out of failures." We would work in a very agile way, we would work in a rapid way, we would put prototypes together, because only by working in that fashion could we learn. It was more important to learn what didn't work, rather than play it safe, be cautious, to try and find the one thing that did work. What are some of the successes that you're seeing from organisations that are embracing innovation and creating those innovative cultures? 


Riccardo Webber: Well, in my two previous companies that I worked for that you mentioned earlier, quite a lot... This is also how I created the model that I talked before with the experience that I have, because a lot of what we did with, for example, Future Thinking, the programme, was a lot of bringing leaders together and developing them as leaders, bring them together to network stronger, so it's shorter ways for them to talk, so the outputs were often more motivated people, higher retention rate for key talent, but then also new ideas that were not even on the radar of the business before, and developing those, and cycle times for product development going down, because you have more people that actually flag up potential difficulties early on in the process when it's not super expensive, when you can change it much quicker. So all these benefits and many, many more, also the perception of you as a business to potential employees and to clients and to customers of being an innovative business, that doesn't hurt at all, rather the contrary.


Toby Mildon: So this is, of course, the Inclusive Growth Show. What does inclusive growth mean to you, particularly when it relates to innovation? 


Riccardo Webber: Yeah, being me, I've taken the term apart again, inclusive and growth. So what does growth mean? Growth can be for me personally, in my development, but also again, for an organisation, I wouldn't exclude one or the other. So I would take both of those aspects. And then inclusive, I didn't have to look in the dictionary how it's defined. But if you think about the word it is, it's letting somebody partake, and that means it's an active, it's an action you have to take, it's not something that happens by itself. So you have to invite somebody in.


Riccardo Webber: So inclusive growth together is really letting people participate in your personal journey and in your organisation's journey. It's not just because somebody is in a different function, they cannot partake in your function's development and in your function's growth and in your business growth, because everybody works together on the growth of the business. I just want to put a word of caution in there, though. Inclusivity helps a lot at generating ideas, as I said before. We have to find a way of also then converting that into outputs; only having inputs isn't enough. How does inclusion really drive the outputs as well. And that's what I mentioned earlier with having those filters and getting the bad ideas out of the system earlier on and flagging up difficulties that might come down the line with customers, so this is the benefit again, how inclusion can increase that inclusive growth.


Toby Mildon: Excellent. Thanks, Riccardo. So before we go, I know that you have been innovating within your own company, I wouldn't expect anything less, to be honest, and you've created your True Innovation scorecard. Now, what is the scorecard? And if somebody is interested in using it, how do they get their hands on it? 


Riccardo Webber: Okay, thank you, Toby. First of all, one bit of innovation that I would like to share anyways is also plan in, actively plan in thinking time. What I've done since I've started the business is putting an hour, two hours a week aside that are fixed in my calendar, they are in my Outlook, that are called thinking time, and I won't let anybody in there. That's me sitting down with a cup of tea or a coffee and thinking. This is also how I created that scorecard, because I was thinking, how do I actually add value to somebody who wants to talk to me about innovation.


Riccardo Webber: So I've taken the model that I described earlier with the two bits in the middle, the engine and then the five surrounding aspects influencing the context, and I've created this scorecard that actually assesses, where you assess your organisation based on that model, in how the organisation performs against that model. So you will get, you're investing between seven and 10 minutes on average into 18 questions, and the immediate output will be you getting a score for each one of those categories that will tell you you're really, really good at generating ideas, but your conversion is not really good. And that then enables us to pick up on those topics and really tailor a programme that helps you be more innovative, according to the model to the individual needs that you will have as a business. And you can find that scorecard very easily on my website, which is www.true-innovation.co.uk.


Toby Mildon: And if somebody does do the scorecard, they also get a glossy report, don't they, sent to them, so...


Riccardo Webber: It might not be glossy, it's a very fact-based one. I'll reply in an email, so you get an actual report automatically generated by the scorecard itself, and I'll pick that up and go into a little bit more detail in an email following up, and I also display your results in an additional, what I call a radar chart, like a spider diagram, where you can see also visually, a little bit better than just the scores itself.


Toby Mildon: That's cool, but the report is really useful because somebody can take that away and start to circulate it amongst their colleagues as well, which is a really helpful resource to have.


Riccardo Webber: Absolutely, and the thing is, I think the real benefit there is, if you have the feeling you're not that great at being innovative as an organisation, this will help you pinpoint exactly which part of the innovation cycle and process you are not extremely good at. It's not just overall innovation, you're not good, but it tells you, well, your communication could be better, or your idea generation could be better, or you're struggling with networking.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Riccardo, thank you ever so much for joining me on this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. As always, I've thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, and particularly being able to make the linkages between great innovation and all the benefits that an organisation get from being diverse and inclusive.


Toby Mildon: And thank you for tuning into this episode and listening to Riccardo and me in conversation. If you want to get hold of Riccardo, please do go to his website and contact him through his website. Until next time, I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. Thanks very much.


S?: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.