Why Your Organization Needs Diversity to Drive Innovation

This is a guest post by Scott Williams. He’s a pastor, blogger, consultant and author of Church Diversity: Sunday The Most Segregated Day of the Week. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

What is innovation? Innovation is defined simply as “the act of introducing something new.” Innovators are not always right. They tend to have as many stories of failure as they do of success.

Still, I appreciate organizations that value innovation. They demonstrate the willingness to try new ways to share their message and ultimately get more of their products in the hands of consumers.

Apple is the king of innovation, of course. They are always introducing something new and a new version of the new thing that they just introduced! It keeps people like you and me wanting to buy the latest-greatest Apple products with the most innovative technology.

I know it seems like many moons ago when Apple released the original iPad. However, they released the first generation version of this product just a year and a half ago. This innovation opened an entire product category that didn’t exist previously.

That’s what innovators do. They chart a new course and lead the way.

Often times we think that innovation should be left up to technology companies, the automobile industry, and new media type industries. The reality is that innovation is an act of intentional leadership for all leaders and especially those in ministry.

I believe the church should be one of the most innovative entities on the planet, as the church is the Bride of the Innovator: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

However, if a ministry, church planter, organization, or leadership team wants to be a driving force in the area of innovation, it must strive for diversity.

In my book Church Diversity, I researched the top corporations for diversity in the world. I studied companies like Johnson & Johnson, IBM, and Coca-Cola. I also conducted research on some key churches around the world. I then drew parallels between the two.

A common theme from these corporations and churches was the fact that diversity in their leadership team, staff, and people fueled success and inspired innovation.

IBM vice president of diversity, Ron Glower, says it this way,

Diversity is a cornerstone of IBM’s strategy to differentiate itself as one of the world’s great companies… it is an essential part of how we attract and retain the best people around the world and makes for a creative environment.”

Unfortunately, if you have a bunch of leaders sitting around the table that all look alike, think alike, and have similar life experiences, it’s only a matter of time before their innovative ideas become recycled ideas, meaning “more of the same.”

While diversity does not just apply to ethnic diversity, ethnic diversity is crucial. Why? Because each team member brings their unique cultural and life experiences to daily discussions and interactions. These discussions and interactions ultimately drive innovation, ideas, and ways to reach a diverse group of people. I have witnessed this first-hand in my own team.

Diversity must be valued if:

  • The church wants to attract, retain, and develop the best talent.
  • The church wants to stay competitive in the market place of leading all people to Jesus.
  • The church wants to be stronger than ever before.
  • The church wants to truly be innovative and not stuck in the pre-civil rights movement era.

One of the pastors that I featured in my book talks about the innovative bonuses of having diversity as a value. Pastor John Bryson “JB” says it this way,

You go to war for diversity and you win the secondary battles against preference and consumerism as a bonus.”

A diverse leadership team helps to create healthy dialogue, synergy, productivity—and the ability to serve a diverse world.

It’s time to look at innovation differently and truly seek to fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus said “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” That means all nations, all ethnicities, and all people.

Questions: How have you seen diversity fuel innovation? How have you seen a lack of it stifle innovation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://modernservantleader.com/ Benjamin Lichtenwalner

    “It’s not a black church, it’s not a white church, it’s God’s church.” Truer words were never spoken. John 3:16 did not segregate, so why is it that so many churches appear segregated?

    A Corporate Example: Group think kills innovation. Nowhere is group think more proliferated than in a homogeneous culture. I’ve worked for homogeneous corporations and extremely diverse ones. Simply put: the homogeneous organizations are losing market share rapidly. The diverse corporations are taking market share away. This holds true for the church as well. Except, in the church, market share is not comprised of dollars and cents, but saved souls.

    This was an excellent post, Scott. Thank you for sharing and for tackling this issue. Diversity is very near and dear to my heart. I look forward to reading your book.

    • ScottWilliams

      Thanks Benjamin, you are exactly right with the market share of the corporations that “get it.”  The top 10 corporations for diversity in the world that I feature in my book are all household names and recognized brands.  For example: Everyone wants Coca-Cola :)  

    • http://davidlarteyblog.wordpress.com David Lartey

      I usually get to see this often where I live. Someone wants this another wants that and the other one wants the other thing. One might feel that if we all want the same thing it will actually help us arrive at a faster decision but we might actually arrive at the wrong decision easily. Thanks Benjamin.

    • http://www.needleforthechristianbubble.com Joe Lalonde

      Ben, that quote hits me pretty hard. Going to a pretty diverse school, our church had been pretty homogeneous. Thankfully in the past few years we’ve seen quite a bit of diversity seep in. We’re now seeing Hispanics, Blacks, Chinese, and other ethnicities represented in our church.

  • http://twitter.com/johnlambert John Lambert

    In my opinion, a good church will reflect the diversity of the city it lives in.  I think it starts with prayerfully gathering a diversity in the core leadership from the very start.  If people walk in a see a good spectrum of cultures leading, greeting and serving, it is a powerful momentum builder to attract more diversity.  This is the potential advantage of a newer church.  Problem is that most churches have been stuck in a rut for so long that it would take some major realignment to get into this place.  I am thankful for our home church, Freedom House in Charlotte, NC, I think they have always modeled a very diverse community from the start.  Here in Thailand, it is very homogenous.  Makes me thankful for the richness of our American culture. We should find ways to celebrate it better as we come together as the Church.

    • ScottWilliams

      You are exactly right when you say: “If people walk in a see a good spectrum of cultures leading, greeting and serving, it is a powerful momentum builder to attract more diversity.”  I try to encourage church planters with this thought…  More and More church planters are getting it year after year. 

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Yes, striving for diversity begins with leadership (as do most things).  I think you’re right when you say that a good church will reflect the diversity of the city it lives in, but I would also go further than that… a good church will reflect the diversity of the people it wishes to reach.  I am a firm believer that a church’s congregation will reflect its leaders.  If a church leadership is full of introverts, the church body will be introverted.  If the leadership is white intellectuals, then the congregation will be also.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      The U. S. tends to have more diversity than many of the nations I’ve visited or lived in. Russia where we lived for six years had a distinctly Russian culture with a little diversity. Jordan where I visited for a few weeks had a distinctly Arabic culture although a bit more diverse than many Middle East/Muslim countries.

      You’re right when you describe our national diversity as “the richness of our American culture.” We in the church, by the grace of God, need to tap into our own national heritage to celebrate what God’s doing among the peoples.

  • http://paulcoughlin.com Paul Coughlin

    Love the focus of your post Scott.

    I work with individuals and teams – and diversity represents and values individuality. Uniqueness.

    As you point out well – diversity only drives innovation when we have synergy. 

    What people often miss, is that the synergy has to be at a level above the individuality. Synergy is the common goal that enables the diverse ideas and people to be united in a way which works.

    We are all unique, and in fact our highest value is our uniqueness. Unity, has to be at the level of the thing which is bigger than we are, and that we are only a part of.

    If we try and unite at the same level on which the diversity exists, we simply create conflict, or we create deadness by stifling difference – you can’t expect to have ‘different’ and ‘same’ from the same place.

    Diversity is absolutely essential of course, and at the same time requires a connection, a higher uniting purpose. Church is a great example, especially as it also brings powerful belief and faith into the mix.. 

    Thanks again Scott – and nice example of a great video..

    • ScottWilliams

      Nice additional thoughts.  Thanks for the compliment…  Synergy and Unity are two beautiful words in action.

  • Chrisjohnstoncoaching

    So why is diversity, for the right reasons, still such a dirty word in many circles?

    • ScottWilliams

      Unfortunately we are trained that the 3 things that we are not supposed to talk about are:
      1. Race  2. Religion  3. Politics   

      It’s a comfort zone issue for most, a prejudice issue for others and lack of understanding others.

  • http://www.gbselfstorage.co.uk/ Self Storage Birmingham

    I am impressed with video & that words said in it. This article is really meaningful & is spreading the message of oneness, even if diversified. Thanks for this lovely sharing.

    • ScottWilliams

      Thanks for your compliment & “Yes” let’s spread this message of oneness…  

      There is
      neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in
      Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 


  • Sherri

    No matter how much “research” we do or how many people we talk to and know, we can only live one reality. It’s amazing how many mistakes we can make when we think we have another group of people all figured out. We need to learn as much as we can about one another but we have to remember that the information we receive is ALWAYS filtered – and sometimes altered – by our own experience. 

    Embracing diversity can be difficult because it requires us to leave our comfort zone, but it can also be energizing and freeing. Isn’t it great that we don’t ALWAYS have to have the ‘right’ way to do something?  :)

    • ScottWilliams

      Well said Sherri, Amen & Amen

  • Anonymous

    I deeply appreciate Scott’s willingness to address diversity, and Michael’s willingness to allow Scott to be a guest writer.  I definitely have taken some notes from this post.  
    I really highlighted: “A diverse leadership team helps to create healthy dialogue, synergy, productivity—and the ability to serve a diverse world.”  Keeping this in mind as I build a team to SERVE a diverse world.

    Go Win!

    • ScottWilliams

      Thx Heady…  It’s amazing the time, attention, research and energy corporations and products put into serving a diverse world.  The bottom line is it matters to the bottom line.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Thank you Scott for a great post. One of the most diverse organizations I have been a part of is Toastmasters International. I’ve met people from all over the world with diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. I’ve heard from republicans, democrats, and libertarians at their meetings as well as business people, entrepreneurs, and government leaders.

    One thing holds true. We are all people with thoughts, emotions, and ideas.

    What I love about Toastmasters is the ability to hear people share from the heart. To actually experience, through their speeches, what it was like to grow up black in South Africa, or be an American living in Japan, or be a woman in an Arab culture. To see and hear first hand how prejudice and cultural differences made life challenging. 

    Through my Toastmaster’s experience, some of my best friends are people that are very different from me. Their native language may be different, and they may have different religious and political views, yet we share the love of public speaking. We can come together and share ideas, while sitting down and enjoying coffee together. We share stories about life.

    It’s this true diversity that has strengthened my faith. To be able to see people as Jesus would have. To be able to share his word and his message of hope to people that would never come to my church on Sunday. To put our differences aside and look for ways to improve the world. To share our experiences, our emotions, and pictures of our grand-kids. That’s what diversity is all about.

    • ScottWilliams

      I was a part of Toastmasters and I couldn’t agree more.  The beauty of Toastmasters is you get to see and hear all different types of people share “Table Topic” or off the cuff type speeches in addition to more prepared speeches.  You get to see how what’s naturally inside of each of us affects how we think and how we share.

  • http://stephenalynch.tumblr.com Stephen Lynch

    I’ve seen both the fueling and depleting of innovation caused by the increase and decrease of diversity, respectively. Here’s the worst part : the group had no idea of its lack of innovation because of its extremely high comfort level with similar people. The comfort of homogeneous is only attractive to those who have never experienced true diversity and the fruits it brings.

    • ScottWilliams

      It really does require a lot of thought, candid talk, intentionality and genuine self-awareness.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1428655381 J. Barry Watts

    Diversity schmiversity. God is color-blind and accent-deaf. I think this diversity thing is bunk. (Of course, I’m kinda grumpy over being un-followed on Twitter, so, you know…..;)

    Now, before you roast me, hear me out. It seems that “diversity” as its been used recently in the culture is often code for acceptance of homosexual lifestyles. Thus, I’m allergic to the book you reference above on its title alone. 

    Now, if by diversity you mean “hybrid-vigor” and “strength that comes from interchange of ideas” and that seems to be the point you are making, well, I’m all for that! 

    The term “diversity” alone just gives me the hee-bee-jee-bees because it is being used to drive an agenda that is antithetical to what the Bible teaches. I’m wondering if the culture has co-opted and corrupted the term “diversity” such that we don’t need to develop a different term to reflect the rich tapestry produced by cross-ethnic and cross-cultural exchange.  

    OK, now you can build the bonfire and roast me for being a bigot. But, before you light the match please consider whether or not my thinking ought to be endorsed in an effort to reflect inclusion and diversity.

    • ScottWilliams

      No roasting or bonfire here, I appreciate your candor and perspective.  Before you discount the book on title alone, please consider the title in it’s entirety and watch the video to see where the words for the sub-title originated over 50yrs ago from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

      Church Diversity – Sunday The Most Segregated Day Of The Week

      I’m definitely referring to ethnic diversity however, socio-econmic, class, culture etc. are addressed in the book.  Don’t let the word get you, maybe substitute this really long word for Church Diversity:


      Thanks again for your comment Mr. Watts, I seriously appreciate your perspective.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1428655381 J. Barry Watts

        I’ll see if I can work that phrase in, because it does express something I value. 

  • Jo Crowley

    True diversity in the church takes more than a top notch diversity team.  When it comes to implementation, the whole church must become embodied in “doing” and not just paying “lip service”.  I have witnessed  the attitude of a couple of people defeating the hard work of many.   There is clearly much work to be done and time is wasting!  Thank you for your post.

    • ScottWilliams

      Amen & Amen…  This is definitely a “Body Of Christ” issue.

  • http://davidlarteyblog.wordpress.com David Lartey

    Diversity is a great thing for innovation because if you want to build relationships where you are you will definitely have to search, discover and create a new an better way of relating always and I see this as a basic form of innovation that can actually help the organization increase in terms of unity.

    • ScottWilliams

      {{search, discover and create a new an better way}}
      Our God given uniquenesses are amazing when they work in concert with one another. 

  • http://twitter.com/DerwinLGray Derwin L. Gray

    Bravo Scott!  

    It was and is an honor for Transformation Church to have been featured in your book, “Church Diversity.” Pastor Derwin

    • ScottWilliams

      Thanks for your contribution and for leading the way!

  • Anonymous

    Amen and Amen!  There may not be a black church or white church in God’s schema, but unfortunately the reality is further from that truth. 

    I also resonate with the comment about seminary.  Many a day after graduating I used to think to myself, “Why can’t the Church be more like the seminary?”  People from all religious persuasions fellowshipped together and didn’t come to blows if someone else belonged to a different denomination or held different beliefs.  Maybe that’s why I learned so much:  I didn’t shut my brain down for fear of being persuaded.  To learn, one has to have a certain amount of openness coupled of course with discernment so that one can appropriately evaluate the information and decide for themselves what they will and will not incorporate into their own belief system.  But the Church is just the opposite.  People seem to shut their brains off and only allow in a very select number of ideas.  So too with innovation.  Why do we stop having original thoughts about the Lord of the universe?  He and His kingdom are something worth being excited about to the point of wanting to continue to innovate.  Quite frankly, to stop innovating invites stagnation with as you said it being only “a matter of time before their innovative ideas become recycled ideas, meaning “more of the same.”  It’s as though some churches worship at the altar of sameness.   We got certain results in the past so we just keep relying on the same old methods to ensure us the same success.  But you don’t see that in many companies.  Rather, you constantly see new packaging, tweaks to the product, etc.  Sometimes we grumble and complain about the changes, but we rarely stop using the product.  We accept the changes and adapt.  I think in the Church, it comes down to misplaced priorities.  Money and power becomes king and so we dare not do anything that will upset that apple cart.   Thus, we’re no longer trusting Jesus but in our own methods.  

    • ScottWilliams

      Wow, thanks for the comment, I feel your passion…  I might have to use your comment as a stand alone post on my blog one day.  With your permission of course. :)

      • Anonymous

        Thanks, Scott.  That would be fine.  My insights come from personal experience as an African-American within a predominantly white church.  

  • Bonnie Clark

    “The Bride of the Innovator” – I LOVE that –  God is creative and innovative and because we are made in His image, we are called, and equipped, to be creatives as well.

    With respect to the Great Commission to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, we may not have always been successful at doing this in the past.  So God has had all the nations come to us (at least that is the case in Canada).  What an opportunity!  The world is literally on the doorsteps of our churches, we just have to open our eyes, our hearts, our minds, and our doors.

    • ScottWilliams

      Totally agree Bonnie and I receive messages from people in Canada and around the globe, saying exactly what you’re saying.

  • http://www.bradandlindsey.com Brad Bridges

    I’ve often wondered if the biggest obstacle to diversity is the self-centeredness in each person’s heart (definitely mine included). Humans tend to gravitate towards what is known, understood, and most like them. Embracing diversity requires us to consider what’s unknown, often misunderstood, and different from what we’re used to (ie others-centeredness). Tough, yes. Worth the effort, definitely.

    Thanks for your post as it was a challenge I needed to read today.

    • ScottWilliams

      You are exactly right, I talk a lot about that in the book.  Most of the pastors that I featured also said the exact same thing about comfort.  It’s very easy to go with what we know.

  • http://twitter.com/ACSTech ACS Technologies

    This post gave me goosebumps – an excellent point that just cannot be overstated. Nice work.


    • ScottWilliams

      I’m so glad this post spoke to you…  

  • Laurenlrosen

    although i get and value the core message of this post, i always think we’re entering into murky water when we start comparing the church to multinational corporations. the fundamental operating logic of the two are completely antithetical.

    • Anonymous

      @Lauren, you’re right about the operating logic of business and church being antithetical.  
      That’s why I believe that any method that is borrowed from business should be sanctified for the church’s use.  So while our goal is not monetary profit, can we, for example, benefit from time or project management methods and can we suit them for our purposes?  I believe that we can.  But just simply copying a business method for church use without evaluating it I think  can be a mistake.

  • Anonymous

    @djchuang, I think what has to happen is that churches have to incorporate diversity in a real way and not just in a way that pays lip-service to diversity.  So, it’s not enough to say, “We have members from all ethnicities”.  Churches have to also allow those individuals key positions in leadership for which they are gifted and actually listen to and work with them.  Being a token does no good.  Living out innovation can be hard.  That means that churches may have to let go of some long-held traditions and entertain some new ideas.  Embracing diversity will often mean embracing a different cultural way of doing things and are we really ready for that?  

    • ScottWilliams

      Very well said…  I think leadership is key.  I talk about this pretty extensively with very real-life practical examples in the book.

  • ScottWilliams

    DJ you bring up a really good point, it depends on who and how innovation is being defined.  Innovation from the pure sense of – “the act of introducing something new” would lead one to think that diversity would be on one of those new lists.  I do know that some churches who have been viewed as the most innovative in the past are now taking hard looks at a culture of embracing diversity.  On the other-hand their are intentionally diverse churches that are now popping on the fastest growing – which can be a factor to being on the most innovative lists.

    Unfortunately we are a little premature for the masses, but as you know hearts are being more open to change on this issue.

    • http://www.djchuang.com djchuang

      Yes, it’s a factor of definitions, sorta like the ever challenging question of “how do you define success?” or “… It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” There’s a Peter Drucker definition of innovation that’s popular in management circles, “Change that creates a new dimension of performance.” 

      And when lists of “innovative” churches are ranked according to average weekend attendance, it appears that the word becomes diluted as “the largest attendance.” Are there better things we could be measuring for a church’s effectiveness? 

      What would an innovative churches list look like if someone came up with a diversity ratio for churches, that factored in ethnic diversity in attendance and in staff?

  • http://somewiseguy.com ThatGuyKC

    Having worked at Microsoft and now Starbucks the value of diversity is almost flaunted. I’ve worked on some of the most eclectic teams you can imagine with people who come from an array of ethnic backgrounds and have a dynamic range of interests (roller derby anyone?).

    I’ve found that when a group is diverse there is greater acceptance (or at least discussion) of new ideas. The existence of difference allows an open mind to almost be a default mental setting.

    • ScottWilliams

      I love the thought that it breeds a more open mind and greater acceptance of ideas…  Diversity is in the training manual for most corporations.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Good thought, KC.

  • http://about.me/lanamoore Lana Moore

    “The church wants to stay competitive in the market place of leading all people to Jesus.” Although I read the whole article and loved every minute of reading it, this particular line stood out to me. It seems to me that many churches, especially new churches, think there is a “Market Place” for saints and at times, I think there is. Turn on the TV and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

    I live in a small town where people go to churches that are of predominantly their race. It would be nice to go to a church where there is diversity amongst the congregation.

    Lastly, I’d like to state that everyone can’t be “head cook and bottle washer.” Diversity isn’t all about leaders… I’ll stop here before I write another article! lol!

    • ScottWilliams

      Thanks for your perspective…  you are right this is a body of Christ issue, not just a leadership or senior pastor issue.

  • Kevin Massey

    I love this post and absolutely believe in diversity.  I’m wondering if you have ever read or researched the man J. Irwin Miller.  I happen to work for the company he founded, and his principles on diversity are still in effect today and it is a great case study on how diversity can help a company become successful.

    • ScottWilliams

      I will research Mr. Miller, love learning from others.

  • Anonymous

    Wow! I absolutely cannot wait to read this book!  (Unfortunately, I left the NOOK at home.)  T

    • ScottWilliams

      I hope you enjoy it… once you get your nook :)

  • http://www.needleforthechristianbubble.com Joe Lalonde

    Scott, thanks for the great post and the video. That video is pretty powerful. It makes me really excited for the book!

    • ScottWilliams

      Thanks…  I hope you enjoy it.

  • Benberson

    Valid and powerful, dear Michael ! I value your posts very much!

    • ScottWilliams

      Thx for reading

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    I have definitely seen a lack of diversity stifle innovation.  People in our world tend to congregate with other people like them (the whole “birds of a feather flock together” thing).  So, by default, people hang around with people that are like them.  To gather with people that aren’t like you is unusual.  But that also means that you only see the world from one perspective.  It means that you only hear ideas that you yourself would have come up with.  Innovation is stifled.

    • ScottWilliams

      The best innovation and best teams happen when you have different life experience, personalities, cultures etc.

      Very well said!

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  • Tamara Vann

    Fantastic and oh so right. When companies have diversity, they gain from a wealth of ideas. It’s important, however, to be sure that everyone is on the same page as far as the mission goes. As this video shows, alignment of effort is vital: http://www.upyourservice.com/video-theater/get-better-results-through-alignment-of-effort-not-through-greater-effort

    • ScottWilliams

      alignment of effort…  nice phrase

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  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    I served as a pastor of a minority church (the city majority was Hispanic at 80+%). Did our “white” church have any Hispanics? One! And that didn’t change during my 3 years there. The closest to change was when I recommended and the church hired a Hispanic woman as church secretary. She resigned in tears after a “fine Christian” woman berated her while I was out of the office.

    So how does church leadership drive the change toward diversity? How do you celebrate cultural differences that enhance both diversity and unity in Christ?