Innovation is "a diversion, a surprise"

The word diversity comes from the Latin roots meaning 'to turn aside.' The same root gives us the words divert and diverticulum - the term physicians use to describe an abnormal out-pouching from a structure such as the bowel or bladder. A diversion is a deviation from the expected path. By definition, every fundamental innovation, whether in the biological or intellectual arena, represents just such a surprise. Our penchant for safety and predictability sometimes leads us to regard unexpected outcomes as failures. Yet without such surprises, we would never learn anything truly new....

Above all, we need to guard against the impulse to impose simple solutions on complex problems. As physicians know all too well, panaceas frequently fail. Pathology consists not of one disease but hundreds of diseases, which in turn manifest differently in different patients. One-size-fits-all solutions are not just ineffective but often counterproductive. An organization of clones will be rife with redundancy, while a diverse organization stands to reap the rewards of complementarity. By prizing diversity, we promote not only success but humanity's full breadth and richness.

Taking his cues from biology, Richard Gunderman, MD and professor of radiology, pediatrics, medical education at Indiana University, applies the lesson of diversity to the brain, demonstrating how rich cognitive terrain prepares the brain to withstand neurological damage from brain disease, and to organizations, demonstrating how, for bureaucracies, the injuries are self-inflicted. As for incoming medical classes, his immediate concern, diversity he argues "is an excellence issue."

Like Gunderman, the IdeaFestival believes fundamental innovation cannot occur without surprise, and surprise cannot occur without a diverse and wide range of people and ideas. Surprise truly is an innovator's best friend.


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