Diversity with Collaboration Unlocks Innovation and Drives Business Growth

“Diversity is an intellect multiplier, especially when the diverse groups can collaborate well” – Mark Sareff

This year the International Women’s day was a different experience for me, no panels stating gender diversity facts most people are painfully aware of. Instead I had the proud privilege of being invited to do a fireside chat and explore new dimensions of diversity and its impact on innovation and business growth.

We are familiar with dimensions of diversity we are born with — gender, age, race etc. but less familiar with the dimensions we acquire in our lifetime — culture, life experiences, domains worked in, education background etc. These interesting dimensions set your thinking patterns, beliefs and problem-solving approaches.

Diversity is an intellect multiplier but, only when diverse groups can collaborate. We need a common language that helps diverse groups come together and collaborate. We need an inclusive environment that fosters diverse perspectives without judgment… here’s where design thinking comes in!

Design thinking in its application celebrates diversity, when done well allows you to go broad try many, diverse approaches before narrowing down to one solution. It can also change how people work together for the better, introducing a deeper level of collaboration, appreciation of diversity and creativity.

Sharing a few key tools to help you create an inclusive environment that fosters diverse perspectives and hence innovative solutions:

1.   Don’t brainstorm; think Independently, together While we are not against brainstorming, we believe brainstorming can lead to HiPPO decisions (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) and can exclude out-of-the-box thinking because the facilitator or the group naturally judges all ideas being generated. Instead have everyone think independently and write down their ideas individually and review every single idea. Similar ideas get grouped together, no idea gets left behind or judged right away. Instead we build on existing ideas to make them more diverse and disruptive. It is a powerful process that celebrates diversity and creates an inclusive environment for disruptive ideas to form and persist.

2.   Narrow ideas using clear criteria – The 2×2 tool is a narrowing tool, allows you to choose ideas that the team will filter down to. The team identifies 2 key criteria to narrow ideas (ideally, customer benefits) that would make massive impact on the business. Ideas are then plotted against those dimensions relative to the benefits it brings to the organization versus making Caesar-like decisions. Again allowing diverse teams and ideas to collaborate well hence leading to innovation and business growth.

3.   Facilitating large group dialogues – The World Café is a structured tool intended to facilitate collaboration, initially in small groups and then linking ideas within a larger group to access the collaborative and collective wisdom in the group. Each person interprets the world differently, based on his/her perception. Sharing the viewpoints of others is essential for understanding alternatives and adapting strategies to deal with environments. Environments that recognize the contribution of all will foster a strong commitment to achieve common goals.

Diversity offers different experiences and novel perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. It opens up new conversations pushing the boundaries on unrestrained thinking which enables breakthrough innovations.

At Pensaar, one of the things we celebrate is the differences we all bring to the table. Each of us comes with unique experiences having worked in varied industries and lived very different lives. It allows us to recognize each other’s strengths and learn from each other while also being sympathetic to each other’s weaknesses. Our different experiences and perspectives help us foster innovation to beat and not just meet the needs of our increasingly diverse customer base.

So much has already been written about this amazing topic, go here to read more:

·   To Make Diversity Work You Need Design Thinking

·   HBR’s How Diversity Can Drive Innovation

·   10 Companies Around the World That Are Embracing Diversity in a BIG Way

·   Why diversity matters


Because Sometimes Free is Valuable

Whenever I have helped someone I believe their thanks is sincere and heartfelt. Can’t beat that wonderful feeling, so I do my best to make time and pay-forward.

Amongst the many that pay-forward, I was really intrigued by the iSPIRT community. A group of best-in-class entrepreneurs (and one could say even, celebrity entrepreneurs) coming together to share their knowledge with fellow and new entrepreneurs. With the hope to share some of my knowledge I started my engagement with iSPIRT running design thinking roundtables.


I have had the great fortune of having exceptional mentors teach me what I know about creating solutions that delight customers; design thinking – a mindset and a process to get inspired by customers, focus on trying things quickly and learn as you go to create solutions that will create awesome customer experiences. It was now my time to pay-forward. What started off as a pro-bono effort has brought me to today where I can proudly say that I am amongst the few privileged to be a part of this highly trusted iSPIRT Maven community.

Practitioners like me synthesize and create new-knowledge in a specialized field. This, in my case, is in Innovation & Design Thinking. A large part of such specialized human-knowledge, however, is stored as experience. It is tacit knowledge. The more you teach, the more you learn. Your knowledge gets refined almost everyday. So of course I wanted to share my knowledge fully expecting that I will be learning by teaching.

I was requested to do it pro-bono and sign into their Maven-code of Ethics which fundamentally is to commit for a pay-it-forward model, not expecting any payback in any form from any participating startups.

Do our audience even trust a Practitioner who is providing pro-bono services to be of high-quality, I wondered?  We live in a culture where often quality if assessed with price and I wasn’t sure at first what I should expect. However, after just doing a couple of Round Tables I realized that trust is indeed created when people give selflessly in a pay-it-forward model. And, it is this very high degree of trust that allows entrepreneurs who are a part of the roundtables to provide open feedback to practitioners (aka Mavens) like me to continue learning and refining our craft. This is indeed priceless. Add to the this, the satisfaction of working for the cause of building a Product Nation together with many spirited Entrepreneurs.

Awesome By Design – Going Broad to Narrow

Creating intuitive products used to be enough but not any more. Now customers demand awesome product experiences…the ones that they tell others about. ‘Design awesome’ – we use these words a lot, but what does it mean? And how do you go about it?

It’s not about delivering awesome products; it’s about delivering awesome experiences that deliver unexpected delight. Design for Delight is grounded in deep customer empathy, going broad with ideas then narrowing with possible solutions and finally, rapid experimentation with customers. In my earlier article on creating awesome by design, I wrote about the first of three important principles.

  1. Know your customer
  2. Go broad to go narrow
  3. Iterate with customers, frequently

In this post, I’ll focus on the second principle: go broad to narrow

The first step in design thinking is to understand your customers, identify their pain points and being really specific about the pain point. It’s when you fall in love with the problem and not the solution that a new sense of objectivity comes in.

Start with all the pain points you see your customers face. Don’t stop with the first one you see, observe all the pain points. Go broad and identify them all. Then, you narrow down to the pain point that you feel customers really struggle with. The one that you know you can solve well and in a way that you can build durable competitive advantage… one that others will not be able to copy easily.

Try this… Give your teams 2-5 minutes to write down their ideas for the problem identified, one idea per post-it. Ask them to read it all out and group them on the board. After you go through them all, throw away all the ideas on the board. You will see everyone’s surprise. If it took a team of folks 2 minutes to come up with the idea, don’t you think others outside your company will do it just as easily? Now, ask them to build on earlier ideas or come up with new ones by combining the earlier ideas.

Go Broad

Our first solutions are often our most obvious ones. In fact most brainstorming techniques I use involve throwing away the initial ideas to get to the good ones that will come later. The ones that come later build on earlier ones and tend to be more thoughtful. It is as if we need to flush out the basic solutions before we get to the better and significant ones.

As human beings we are genetically predisposed to solving problems. We often jump into the first solution we get and then, fall in love with it. You will be far more successful in delivering awesome if you fall in love with the problem and not the solution.

Often, you will have to help teams suspend their judgment and think beyond what is accepted as possible. We call this fodder. Give your teams ideas and analogies they can draw from and discover truly disruptive solutions for solving the customer pain point on hand. For example, when we were thinking about mediums of communication for our product to engage the customers, we thought of Morse codes, pigeons, personal messages, and even telepathy!

One good tip would be to ask yourself “what else did we/I look at”, every time you review a solution. Most teams I have worked with only detail out one idea. My magic number is three. I think it is important to explore 3 great solutions (at the very least) and then narrow down to the winning solution. My only rule is that these 3 solutions need to be distinctively different and not just small deviations of each other. If you are having difficulty going broad use this simple 7-to-1 tool.

“To have a good idea, you must first have lots of ideas.” – Linus Pauling


Once you have a number of ideas on the board, the next step is to evaluate them and narrow the focus. Narrow down to the handful of ideas that you think you can really solve well with durable competitive advantage.

When you brainstorm, you come up with unique and bizarre ideas from a variety of perspectives, each of them with its own spin and inspiration for the solution. It is easy to discard those but wait, those are probably your most disruptive ideas!

There are several ways to narrow; I will share two ways that I tend to use:

  1. 2×2 Narrowing Technique: Use this method when trying to narrow across several dimensions that are important to you and your customers
  • Label the axis with criteria that lead to some tension and/or criteria that you would like your ideas to have. Place your ideas written on post-its into the relevant quadrant. The ones that you are interested are often in the top, right quadrant. You can decide that you want to look at multiple criteria and go through several rounds of these 2X2s. You may also decide that you don’t have enough ideas that are say, innovative and look to build on existing ideas so that it will be innovative.
  1. Target exercise: Put all your ideas on the target. The idea that solves the pain point best (with your individual or teams’ judgment) in the middle. This is a great exercise for you to involve your (potential) customers and ask them what idea they would think solves their pain point best i.e. what they would use. The discussion to have needs to be around how you can build on many ideas and combine them into one so you can bring it into the center circle.

A great example from my awesome journey at Intuit is Fasal. The pain-point that farmers in India faced was not knowing how to get the best price for their produce, nor what markets to go to and when. We conducted several experiments on providing the right information at the right time to the farmers, ranging from eBay-like market places to voice-based systems and text messages for providing market information. The magic number is 3… I always try at least 3 different solutions. Interestingly the solution we then built out is not 1 of the 3 but a new concept that had a few attributes of the 3 ideas we shared with customers. Simplicity and accessibility were very important criteria, and these narrowed our solution to an SMS based platform that provides farmers with reliable and real time wholesale market price.

Use go broad to narrow throughout your innovation process, starting with the pain point and ending in the actual building of the solution and support.

I hope this article was insightful to you on how to design awesome using the principle of going broad to narrow. Please feel free to share your thoughts and I would love to answer any questions on this topic.

Design Thinking: When creativity and process come together

Design Thinking as a mindset and process that is starting to get its’ due attention in the US. In India however, it is lesser known and in most cases, an after thought.

What is Design Thinking, you ask? It is a creative process of building products that people simply love to use! Products that not just meet but beat customers’ expectations and bring in the element of unexpected delight!

There are several versions of the design thinking process, having practised design thinking for ~10 years now, here is my interpretation of it.

Design Thinking → insight . dream . disrupt

INSIGHT is all about developing a deep understanding of the customer as well as the environment in which they work. Then, connecting the dots in non-obvious ways to develop clear insights into the customer needs.

DREAM helps you think about many, out of the box solutions before you choose one solution that really solves the customer need you identified. But, you wont stop till you build in unexpected customer delight.

DISRUPT helps you push your thinking beyond what is easily possible and iteratively test your ideas with your customers (no surveys, real experiences tested with fake-o-backends)

Design Thinking in India: Most, if not all individuals creating products in India tend to be engineers by education. I think of this to be a huge advantage. “It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs. Given the engineering background in India, we naturally focus on how things works. As such we need to use this advantage and focus on converting new and wonderful technologies into products that people simply love. However, we tend to be guilty of not stopping to understand the problem and simply focus the solution right away. Fall in love with the problem, not the solution — one of the many things, I learnt while at Intuit is something I think we should all apply more.

I believe this has to do with our lineage and how we’ve grown into a country that’s going in the path of a technology revolution!

IT progression in India in the ast 30 years

My message to all product and experience creators is just this…it is not enough to have designers think about customers, everyone in the company should foster design thinking.

Be AWESOME, BY DESIGN — start with discovering those deep insights, dream up solutions that push possibilities and finally create disruptive solutions that don’t stop short of delivering unexpected delight.

I’ve shared examples of insight and dream previously. Do share your own design thinking stories and challenge mine.