How organizations can embrace diversity to boost creativity
Creativity is of vital importance in the modern world. Does diversity help promote it?
This series on diversity and inclusion is sponsored by Amway, which supports a prosperous economy through having a diverse workplace. Companies committed to diversity and inclusion are better equipped to innovate and drive performance. For more information, visit amwayglobal.com/our-story.
Creativity is a vital resource in the modern business world. In an IBM survey of more than a thousand CEOs, creativity was ranked as the most important quality in a modern business leader. In another study, creativity was found to be an essential requirement for entrepreneurship.
The need for a creative workplace is self-evident. How to promote creativity is less obvious. One method that is often considered is increasing the diversity of the workplace. Intuition suggests that this should be effective, as a plethora of worldviews and life experiences should promote a variety of responses to problems. But is this true?
Diversity and creativity
There has been surprisingly little research on this subject despite the apparent interest in promoting creativity and learning about how diverse environments affect us. There are two extensive studies, however, that explore the relationship between creativity and diversity for both individuals and organizations.
The first study by Jackson Lu, Paul Eastwick, and several others examined the effect that intercultural dating had on creativity. Over the course of several experiments, it was shown that a history of intercultural dating could predict how well a person would score on a variety of creativity tests. A second experiment showed the effect was not a mere correlation, as subjects performed better on the same tests when they had spent time reflecting on an intercultural relationship rather than on an intracultural one.
The last part of the study focused on intercultural friendships rather than romantic relationships and found that more frequent contact with friends of another culture was a predictor for whether the subject would display traits of entrepreneurship or workplace innovation, providing further evidence that close intercultural relationships can promote creative thinking.
The authors concluded that their study provided “the first empirical evidence that intercultural romantic relationships and friendships can enhance creativity by facilitating cultural learning.” They suggested that the mechanism for improved creativity is the mental flexibility that consistent interactions with someone from a culture that differs from your own often requires.
Getting a second opinion
The second study, by Ceren Ozgen, Jacques Poot, and Peter Nijkamp, focused on the organizational effects of diversity and sought to determine if a diverse organization was a creative one. After deciding that the literature up to that point had shown mixed results, the researchers chose to analyze data comparing workplace demographics to innovation in Dutch companies.
While their findings did show that a young, highly skilled workforce located near competing firms tended to be more innovative, the diversity factor was insignificant though positive. Furthermore, if employees from the same country tended to stick together rather than interacting with those from different places, the effect of diversity on innovation was negative. After adding a factor for fixed effects, a tool often used in statistics to identify underlying variables, the only significant element of innovation in large firms that remained was the presence of high-skilled employees.
The authors concluded that “we do not find supporting empirical evidence for firms benefitting from cultural diversity of employment once reverse causality and unobserved firm heterogeneity are both taken into consideration.” So, is the jury still out?
Despite the disagreement of these studies, some things can still be said about a diverse workplace. Both studies agree that the depth of relationships is important and that no positive effect exists when there is no meaningful interaction between people of differing cultures. It also remains possible that the second experiment did not focus on types of workplace creativity that were positively affected by diversity, as the authors suggested. As always, more research is needed.
So what can an organization do to take advantage of the findings of these studies?
How organizations can benefit from diversity
The authors of the first study suggest that the benefits of intercultural exchange can be harnessed at the organizational level in two steps. As these suggestions are geared towards improving the individual, the findings of the second study do not rule out the possibility of later benefits reaching the workplace.
“The first step for organizations is to cultivate an intercultural environment by opening the door to individuals from different cultures. For example, to enhance cultural diversity in the workplace, organizations could develop more exchange programs between offices in different countries. In addition, organizations could provide more financial and logistical support for international employees in the challenging process of obtaining work visas and residency permits.”
They suggest a step two that is a little more involved.
“Having ensured an adequate level of cultural diversity for intercultural interactions, the second step for organizations is to nurture close relationships among employees from different cultures. When intercultural relationships are mismanaged, they can breed discomfort, mistrust, and conflict due to cultural barriers and differences which explains why people generally favor intracultural romantic relationships and friendships in the first place. Instead of forcing international employees to suppress their cultural values and assimilate to the host culture, organizations could encourage inclusive multiculturalism by highlighting the benefits of cultural differences for both cultural in-groups and out-groups. Firms could facilitate deep intercultural relationships through shared activities, both inside and outside the workplace. At work, managers could assign foreign and domestic employees to work together on tasks that require cooperation, thereby reducing intergroup bias and barriers."
The authors suggest that individuals should “go out of their comfort zone to develop meaningful and long-lasting relationships with individuals from other cultures. While not everyone has the resources and opportunity to go abroad, they could strive to develop meaningful intercultural relationships via meet-ups (e.g., language exchange programs) within their home city.”
They remind us, however, that this effect only works with deep interpersonal connections and not with passing acquaintances. If you want the benefits from this effect, you have to work for it.
While it may not be the case that a workplace with greater diversity is necessarily a more creative one, it is the case that people with greater intercultural exposure and more committed intercultural relationships are more creative. Steps that encourage these relationships are likely to pay off in the long run. In a world where creativity and cultural literacy are ever more important, it certainly can’t hurt.
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A new device shows promising results in its ability to convert CO2 and water into useful fuels.
- Artificial photosynthesis devices have long been touted as a way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into useful products.
- New research describes a highly efficient and cheap device that could be used to turn waste carbon dioxide into methane.
- Natural gas, which mainly consists of methane, is a cleaner fuel than coal and has been characterized as a "bridge fuel" prior to transitioning to renewable energy sources, but not everyone thinks it's a good idea to burn yet more hydrocarbons.
A great many human inventions are inspired by nature. Velcro, for instance, was inspired by the hooked barbs of thistle, sonar was inspired by bats and dolphins, and flight was, of course, inspired by birds. To solve climate change, arguably the world's most pressing challenge, we've once again turned to nature for solutions.
That's why researchers have been working on building devices modeled on plant life's ability to photosynthesize CO2 and water and, using sunlight as an energy source, transform these molecules into carbohydrates and oxygen.
The field of artificial photosynthesis has long looked into how best to implement and adapt this process for our own needs. Now, recent research has uncovered a cheap and efficient means of photosynthesizing useful fuel out of waste CO2 and water.
Scalable and efficient
An electron microscope image shows the semiconductor nanowires. These deliver electrons to metal nanoparticles, which turn carbon dioxide and water into methane.
The new method, described in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses solar power to produce methane, which can be used as natural gas.
In the context of climate change, many environmentalists are probably groaning over the idea that the production and burning of yet more greenhouse gases should be portrayed as a good thing, but it's important to remember the practical benefits of devices such as this. Attached to the smokestacks of power plants, this artificial photosynthesis device can capture CO2 that would otherwise pollute the atmosphere and transform it into a far more efficient fuel that remains carbon neutral — so-called "green" methane.
Since our current infrastructure already supports the use of hydrocarbons for fuel, implementing tools such as these is an important first step to transitioning towards a more advanced but as-of-yet incomplete renewable energy infrastructure.
"Thirty percent of the energy in the U.S. comes from natural gas," said co-author Zetian Mi in a statement. "If we can generate green methane, it's a big deal."
Most importantly, the device makes use of low-cost and easily manufactured components, meaning that it will be scalable. The fatal flaw of many magic bullet climate change solutions is that they are expensive or difficult to make and implement, preventing them from being used at the scale necessary to combat climate change.
The device itself can be characterized as a solar panel studded with nanoparticles of iron and copper. The copper and iron nanoparticles hang onto molecules of CO2 and H2O by their carbon and hydrogen atoms. Using the sun's energy or an electrical current, the bonds between atoms in the CO2 and H2O are broken down, enabling the water's hydrogen atoms to connect to the carbon dioxide's carbon atom. The end result is one carbon atom bonded with four hydrogen atoms — methane. What's more, the new device does this work far more efficiently than other artificial photosynthesis systems.
"Previous artificial photosynthesis devices often operate at a small fraction of the maximum current density of a silicon device, whereas here we operate at 80 or 90 percent of the theoretical maximum using industry-ready materials and earth abundant catalysts," said Baowen Zhou, a postdoctoral researcher on this project.
Methane is merely one of the more useful products this device can produce; it can also be configured to produce syngas — a fuel consisting of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and some carbon dioxide — or formic acid, which is used as a preservative in livestock feed.
A bridge too far?
The use of natural gas is on the rise in the U.S., but not everybody sees this as a positive. It's a cleaner fuel than coal, for instance, or diesel. It's been characterized as a bridge fuel that economies can lean on while waiting for the renewable energy sector to mature. Then again, its advantages make it awfully attractive, so much so that critics claim we may pay too much attention to it when we ought to be pivoting to renewable energy in a more focused fashion.
Nearly everyone (except for certain politicians and industry leaders) are on the same page regarding the ultimate fate of the world's energy sources — renewable energy like solar and wind power are going to be the main way we generate power in the future. In the meantime, however, the next-best thing is to implement CO2-scrubbing technology like the artificial photosynthesis device described in this article. Burning natural gas that we've sucked out of the Earth will certainly trash the atmosphere, but converting existing emissions into carbon-neutral fuels is far more practical, regardless of whether natural gas should be considered a bridge fuel or a barrier.
From ultra-realistic graphics to more intelligent A.I. characters, the 2020s will bring some mind-bending video games.
- The video game industry will be worth an estimated $200 billion by 2022.
- The growth of the industry is helping to advance gaming technology, which will allow for new types of gaming experiences.
- Some gaming evolutions likely to occur in the 2020s include ubiquitous ray-tracing technology, smarter A.I. characters, and big-budget virtual reality attractions.
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