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‘Amplify differences’ to achieve innovation

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Harvard professor advocates embracing diversity of thought to increase innovation

Leaders should “amplify differences, not minimise differences” in order to drive innovation, according to Linda Hill, Wallace Brett Donham professor of business administration and faculty chair, leadership initiative, at Harvard Business School.

Hill, who is co-author of Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, was speaking to an exclusive group of HR directors – alumni of HR magazine’s HR in the Boardroom programme.

She said businesses must embrace “creative abrasion” to become more innovative. “You don’t get innovation without diversity and conflict,” she added. “Create a robust marketplace of ideas through discourse and debate.”

This includes diversity of thought and experience, and Hill advocated deliberately bringing “naïve” people with limited experience into the innovation process. “You need a combination of the naïve and the expert point of view,” she said. “The naïve eye is always very important when you need to innovate.”

Hill explained that the “social architecture” behind innovation is critical, as innovation is the result not of a lone visionary leader but of “collective genius”.

According to her research, leaders of innovative companies focus on “creating the kind of culture where innovation can happen time and again”, Hill added. “You need ecosystems to innovate. Mix people up in different ways.”

HR in the Boardroom

HR in the Boardroom is a pioneering board development programme for HR leaders – run by HR magazine – in association with CEO-confidant and author Steve Tappin, of Xinfu, and founding partner of The Global Growth Institute Wayne Clarke.

It is designed to help HR directors have more impact on the board, combining one-to-one coaching with practical sessions, peer learning and networking.

Participation is by invitation only and limited to no more than 15 people per year. Find out more here.

Look out for a full interview with Linda Hill in a future issue of HR magazine.