Having diversity in business is a necessity. Aside from the ethical reasons for having as diverse an organization as possible, the business case is extremely strong – as McKinsey and Co noted in its latest diversity and inclusion study, “the greater the representation, the higher the likelihood of outperformance.” Put simply, the more diverse a business, the greater the chance of sustained success.
Yet for many, diversity is an internal matter – most discussion focuses on attracting and retaining employed talent. What is often missed is the fact that no organization can exist in isolation. Bringing in outside expertise is critical, whether it’s to advise on a new investment, or deliver skills that are cost-prohibitive to have employed within the company. Furthermore, making sure that external knowledge is suitably diverse is just as important as diversifying the workforce.
Disrupting established thinking
As well as introducing skills and knowledge, leveraging external expertise can also be a valuable way of disrupting groupthink. Even within the most diverse organizations, we run a major risk that employees and executives will succumb to a degree of internal bias in their decision-making. Market leaders and successful disruptors alike de-risk for this by bringing in outside expertise to challenge established views and provoke greater diversity of thought. This in turn leads to the identification of new solutions and alternative approaches.
This isn’t new. Sports teams make a lot of noise about how they bring in expertise from other areas, whether it’s psychologists, nutritionists, or even specialists from other sports (such as sprinters to teach footballers and rugby players how to accelerate) to deploy new ways of thinking and unlock elite levels of performance.
But in a world where anyone with a social media account and enough time can promote themselves as an influencer, how do businesses go about ensuring they engage with the real experts who can truly add value to their company?
Protecting against bias, even in experts
Academics are usually a good starting point for accessing more objective insights on specialist topics. Similarly, industry professionals often have highly specific knowledge of certain products or markets that can be of immense value to companies.
The problems here are twofold though. Firstly, there can exist many distinct schools of thought within a discipline or sector and speaking to only a few experts can run the risk of missing innovative insights. Secondly, there often exists a tendency to use the same experts, or the same networks, over and over again once relationships have been established. Experts are human too, and if they persist in using the same people, companies are only going to be getting a handful of different perspectives at most. To combat this, businesses need to be tapping into a diverse range of knowledge holders from a variety of backgrounds. But how can you identify these specialists quickly and effectively?
Then there is the question of how one actually becomes an expert. There is no clearly defined formula, but demonstrable experience and a track record of objective success, acknowledgement and recommendations by peers, and accreditation from noted bodies (whether industry or academic) all contribute to helping pinpoint expertise. In theory, the democratizing effect of digitalization, and the ever-increasing online availability of this identifier information, makes it easy to ascertain an individual’s credentials. Yet in practice, that same proliferation of information threatens to drown out true insight and original thinking. So, how can we sort the signal from the noise?
Combatting information overload
It is an ongoing issue – we are all flooded in information day in day out. The World Economic Forum estimated that on any given day we collectively send 500 million tweets and 294 billion emails, and make more than five billion searches.
To wade through all that information, to sort it and identify the most relevant expertise would be a process that is too time intensive for any organization. Plus, by the time you’ve manually analyzed the data, the field will most likely have evolved and the true experts of today may not have been the thought leaders of yesterday.
So, how do we find people that are becoming increasingly hidden by the noise of modern life? Technology has an answer. Artificial intelligence (AI) could be used to comb through digitally stored information, whether it’s research papers or tweets, press releases or award announcements, and identify potential experts that could support a business need. Such a platform would dramatically cut the time it takes to find knowledge leaders, while still providing a broad and diverse spread of candidates. It would go beyond simply highlighting the latest information, and give companies access to the minds behind the material, providing a gateway to previously hidden insights. What’s more, technology sees no borders, meaning that businesses are no longer restricted to those experts in their region, time zone, or cultural affiliation.
There’s a major opportunity to ensure that those experts bring a diverse and varied outlook, challenge internal consensuses and give businesses the competitively differentiated insight they need to make informed, accurate, and innovative decisions.
By giving organizations access to AI-sourced experts, such a platform is acting as a route to, rather than the ultimate source of, knowledge. What AI can do is rapidly find the needle in the haystack of knowledge, providing access to insights that can be fed into strategies that allow companies to stay at the forefront of innovation in their space.
Diversity driving growth
Diversity isn’t just a fashionable buzzword – it’s a performance driver that supports businesses in making fast, accurate decisions. Those organizations that only consider it an internal matter are missing an opportunity. Ensuring you have a diverse range of external expertise to call on is also critical, as it means being able to access a varied base of knowledge that others are missing. Using an AI platform to find the right individuals gives companies a path to finding the expertise they need to challenge internal thinking and, ultimately, identify new opportunities for growth.
Graham Mills, co-founder and managing director, techspert.io