6 steps to get your business walking the diversity talk

C2 team

When business leaders don’t take all perspectives into account, when teams work in silos, and when disadvantaged groups aren’t given a seat at the meeting, we inhibit innovation and lose out on opportunities for potentially momentous change. So what if we reframed how we talk about diversity by looking at it through the lens of design? 

Suzanne Gibbs Howard, a partner at global design heavyweight IDEO and Founder and Dean of design-thinking school IDEO U, believes that design thinking can offer a window into the ways in which diversity can be implemented.

“Change is hard, outcomes are uncertain, but we can look at it through a different lens: one of optimism and abundance,” says Suzanne. “Most organizational change programs in corporations fail because they don’t work at the cultural and the emotional level.”

What is design thinking and why should I care?

Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving. By thinking like a designer, and utilizing elements from the designer’s toolkit (like empathy and experimentation), you make decisions based on what future customers really want instead of relying only on historical data or on instinct instead of evidence.


Build a movement for change

Suzanne encourages inclusive, process-oriented movements, rather than top-down mandates, as the best way to foster collaboration and make changes in your company. And you have to start small, she says.

A group of passionate individuals who see things differently and are driven to take action can make bold moves and get the quick wins that have positive impact, attracting more people to the movement. Eventually, what was the edge becomes the core, the outlier becomes the norm, and over time structures and processes evolve into new ways of working.




IDEO U’s step-by-step guide for catalyzing change

Think about a challenge facing your organization, team or community that could benefit from a wide range of diverse perspectives.


  1. Identify a challenge to tackle by focusing on:
  • Where tension and conflict exist, and…
  • Where there is no productive conflict, dialogue or discourse


  1. Introduce a diversity of perspectives by asking:
  • Who are the key players?
  • Who is the change in service of?
  • What difference could this change make?


  1. Refine your challenge by filling in the blanks in this sentence

How might we apply a greater diversity of perspectives in ______________

in order to ______________.

(Such as: How might we apply a greater diversity of perspectives in team brainstorms

in order to elevate the voices of introverts.)


  1. Now brainstorm 5 ways to start small:

The constraints?

  • Plan it in less than a day
  • Have it cost less than $100
  • Make it with 1-3 other people


  1. Pick an action to start with by asking what generates the most:
  • Energy (people are passionate about it)
  • Excitement (it generates buzz)
  • Engagement (participation will grow from it)
  • Ease (it doesn’t take many resources to start right away)


  1. Choose your coalition of conspirators

When you think about engagement, it’s not only about employees but about your “coalition of co-conspirators,” says Suzanne. It takes three kinds of collaborators to mobilize forces, get ideas off the ground and make your movement stronger:

  • Enthusiasts: People with passion for the idea, often the easiest to brainstorm and work with
  • Sponsors: People with power who will relinquish resources to let you scale your change — the process has to be as much theirs as it is yours
  • Naysayers: The skeptics who push you to tackle unintended consequences before they happen and who think differently and inclusively


Read more from the “Back to business” special:

Skill them all: Here’s how to gear up for the future of work

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Train your brain to spot the next big industry shift

Your audience is cooler than you

What’s your problem? 3 easy steps for creative business problem solving


The C2 Montréal Minutes: Actionable insights for creative business leaders

This article is excerpted from the upcoming Transformative Collisions: The C2 Montréal 2018 Minutes, available for your reading pleasure this fall at c2m.tl/minutes2018.

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Questions or comments? Drop us a line at editorial@c2.biz