The Right Honourable David Johnston, C.C. was the 28th Governor General of Canada and is currently Chair of the Rideau Hall Foundation.
Think about history’s greatest minds and the process by which their new ideas, methods and products have transformed generations of lives. What image appears? Chances are you’re conjuring in your mind’s eye a person—likely a man. He’s alone, standing before a chalkboard or hunched over a workbench that’s littered with tools or paints, papers or blueprints, wires or test tubes. As you watch him scribble away or tinker with some device, he stops, lifts his gaze from his efforts and proclaims, “Aha!”
If this vision reflects your thinking, you’re not alone. People have long been fascinated by the romance of the lone genius. He is Leonardo, Darwin, Edison, Einstein, Picasso or some other isolated individual whose curiosity and tenacity moves him to reject established practice and conceive a new way of thinking or acting that revolutionizes our world and the way we live. Invention (from the Latin invenire, meaning coming in or arriving at) is exciting to us because it describes the bold, individual search for truth that, over the years, led to the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century and subsequently gave birth to all the modern sciences. Our enduring focus on the exploits of the solitary mind has led us perhaps to believe that the greatest advances are made only in isolation and only by a single person.
Not true. That’s why the word innovate is so helpful. To innovate (from the Latin innovare, meaning renew or alter) implies a deliberate change in the nature or fashion of something, precisely to make it of greater use to more people. By definition, then, innovation is a process in which people improve on existing knowledge or practice. Sometimes that improvement is a slight advance; other times it’s a leap higher and further than previously thought possible. History shows us consistently that high and long leaps occur most often when people of disparate backgrounds and knowledge combine their experiences and perspectives.
Diversity + collaboration = inclusion
SmartICE is an ingenious and—given the season—fitting example of diversity and collaboration in action. The 2016 Arctic Inspiration Prize winner is a social innovation to inform winter shipping and ice-breaking activities in Canada’s north, as well as enable travellers in the region to plan safe travel routes. It does so by taking Inuit traditional knowledge about the conditions of coastal sea ice and integrating this wisdom with a near-real-time monitoring and dissemination system.
Diversity combined with collaboration is inclusion. My informal equation reveals the fact that diversity alone is not the same as inclusion, nor does diversity lead automatically to inclusion. Inclusion comes when people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives work together to make meaningful decisions and take consequential actions. A valuable ingredient in, and by-product of, inclusion is trust. Workplaces, industries and economies rely on trust to make it possible for a diversity of people to collaborate openly, honestly and successfully. These same workplaces, industries and economies strengthen trust when they show they can go from having a diversity of faces to having the people behind these faces play important roles in decisions and actions.
Put another way, we build trust when we enable people to get up and dance (an invitation to action) and not when we summon them to the dance (an invitation to an occasion). My comparison to dance is literal as well as metaphoric. When I served as governor general, we at Rideau Hall made square dancing a central activity of the annual winter party for the diplomatic community in Ottawa. Square dancing may seem a little square to some, yet its gymnastics requires all those taking part to influence and own the experience as a group.
It’s an apt analogy of going from merely including a diverse group of people within an organization and economy, to having those in the group collaborate fully in the decisions and actions of the organization and economy. Another way of understanding the move from diversity to inclusion is to look at it as a progression from optics (a surface diversity of backgrounds and experiences), to outcomes (drawing on the knowledge and talent that stems from these diverse backgrounds and experiences to improve performance), to ownership (using that greater performance to unleash individual creativity, deepen collaboration and ignite our innovation economy). Again, an essential ingredient in, and by-product of, inclusion is trust.