The Conference Board uses cookies to improve our website, enhance your experience, and deliver relevant messages and offers about our products. Detailed information on the use of cookies on this site is provided in our cookie policy. For more information on how The Conference Board collects and uses personal data, please visit our privacy policy. By continuing to use this Site or by clicking "OK", you consent to the use of cookies. 

12 May. 2015 | Comments (0)

We know we need innovation to realize substantially better results with Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), but how do we go about creating fresh ideas capable of generating new value? This is no easy endeavor. While many assert that they value diverse thinking to generate vitally important innovations for their businesses, most are paradoxically biased against creativity.

An innovation lab is one way to overcome this challenge. Innovation labs are powerful forums — and often key launch pads — that help organizations co-create new solutions. Employed around the world in a wide range of sectors, innovation labs propel new ideas by creating space for stakeholders to actively explore solutions to a shared challenge. Inspired by the traditional scientist’s lab as a place to test out hypotheses and achieve meaningful discoveries1, innovation labs have been developed to explore and address significant challenges facing business and society. Distinct from conventional methods of problem solving, innovation labs provide hands-on, experiential strategies, are informed by systems and design theory, and facilitate the co-creation of rapid prototyping2. As Lisa Torjman with the MaRS Discovery District has explained, “…The Lab is a structure that not only thinks, but also does.”

In my own experience leading D&I innovation labs, I have witnessed how the labs can foster meaningful impacts by blending interactive learning experiences with practical work to:

  • Disrupt limiting assumptions and unproductive practices
  • Reshape how participants think and work via progressive mind shifts, new approaches to co-creative problem solving, and advanced ways to implement change
  • Tap into latent creativity, inspire curiosity, and energize enthusiasm
  • Strengthen participants’ confidence in their creative capabilities

Even more, innovation labs can create constructive, sustained change by:

  • Unleashing participants’ continuous capacity to make the most of the collective wisdom of a broad mix of talent, boosting innovation and enhancing competitive advantage
  • Inspiring specific, transformative changes enabling organizations to make the most of next generation D&I

When focused specifically on D&I challenges and opportunities, a successful innovation lab can promote processes designed to foster meaningful change in how businesses function by:

Inspiring change: Via explorations of leading research (including evidence about what does and does not work for contemporary D&I), compelling storytelling, future trends, and creativity experiences, labs can shift ways of thinking about D&I. As the limitations of conventional frameworks begin to surface, participants start to challenge their assumptions and ask new questions.. For many, this can be a profound and exciting turning point in how they think about the work of D&I. As they begin to conceptualize D&I differently, participants burst into entirely different conversations about exponential possibilities that are not constrained by current ways of thinking and working. This can lead to breakthroughs in D&I and business strategies, such as the examples in the table below:

Traditional Mindset  Contemporary Mindshift  Value Created 

D&I is perceived a distraction from mission-critical business

D&I is recognized as a business enabler, not an add-on, and needs to be integrated into business opportunities in
HR, R&D, Marketing, Sales, Customer Support, Investor Relations, and more.
An integrated strategy lays out steps to leverage
D&I as an embedded enabler to grow market share, capture new markets, and attract shareholders to grow the business.
Inclusion means individual
leadership behaviours that make
individuals feel valued and

More than leadership behaviors that make
people feel good, inclusion means making the
most of a broad mix of talent to achieve
mission-critical business goals.

Organizations systematically engage a
broad mix of talent and leverage diversity to
generate innovations enabling business

Initiating change: Accompanying these challenges to familiar assumptions, lab participants can also be introduced to practical tools for activating enhanced strategies.  For example, they might learn simple, but potent, step-by-step processes for creative problem solving that leverage diversity in the context of day-to-day work. Even more, innovation labs can create space for participants to directly engage new insights by working together to co-create prototypes, initial drafts of next generation strategies that can be refined for implementation. A sample of practical prototypes that have surfaced from some of my own D&I specific Breakthrough labs include:

  • Inclusive Leadership Development Process: Use technology-enabled real time data about inclusion behaviours for integrated performance management and development

  • Inclusive M&A Integration Strategy: Leverage D&I to increase global sales following an acquisition

  • New Revenue Stream: Replace traditional income source with a more robust, higher-margin business model

  • Product Innovation Generation: Organize systemic crowdsourcing and cross-fertilization across functions and lines of business to leverage D&I for innovation

Innovation labs are not prescriptive. Rather, they are carefully designed to release ingenuity and unleash talent locked into traditional routines. They foster this by asking different questions, shaping new frameworks, sparking fresh ideas, and giving people permission, space, and tools to think differently and progressively. This unconventional experience creates a distinctive opportunity to ignite collective heads, hearts, and minds. When focused on D&I, innovation labs allow participants to actively explore and generate advanced ways of achieving the changes required for contemporary opportunities in this field. Participants can return to their organizations as contemporary catalysts of an infinitely generative movement that can mobilize the collective genius of a broad mix of talent to help organizations realize their mission for the future.

Are you advancing D&I to create greater value for your organization? How can an innovation lab help you break free of the status quo and break through to results that matter?


I invite you to learn more about my own aspirational and practical Breakthrough D&I Innovation Lab that will help deliver both immediate and long-term value via a wide range of outcomes. These include prototypes of trailblazing D&I solutions and advanced implementation plans to activate integrated, valuable, and sustainable change. Participants also develop an elevated capacity to design, refine, and leverage D&I next practices to continuously create fresh value for the business.

View our complete listing of
Diversity & Inclusion blogs.

  • About the Author: Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a senior fellow providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. She serves as program director for both the Diversity & Inclusion Executives and…

    Full Bio | More from Rebekah Steele


0 Comment Comment Policy

Please Sign In to post a comment.