Great Minds Think Differently: Creating a SAFE Space to Foster Innovation

On March 25, DINT was joined by SAY Yang in a one-of-a-kind talk and workshop where they discussed the key to a successful team, business, and community: diversity. With a unique perspective that great minds don’t think alike, SAY led a workshop on diversity, psychological safety, and how to create a SAFE (Sharing Acceptance, Fairness, and Empathy) space for diversity.

SAY Yang is the current Content Marketing Manager for Employer Brand at Grammarly, and they have delivered popular talks on diversity and creativity at Grace Hopper Celebration, Cisco, Oracle, Lesbians Who Tech, and Women Who Code. SAY recently published their allegorical novel, The Spineless Porcupine, which is available on Amazon and all major book retailers.

Why Diversity is Key to Success

SAY approaches the D&I conversation with a unique perspective: that great minds don’t think alike, and in order to produce the most innovative solutions, our companies require diverse perspectives.

‘We don’t exist in a black and white world. If our companies are homogenous, we won’t create relevant solutions for the rainbow that is the global economy.’

This ‘rainbow global economy’ analogy encourages diverse solutions, and according to SAY, the only way to reach those solutions is by employing and valuing the opinions of rainbow teams.

A Cleverpop study showed that more diversity leads to better decisions through three conclusions…

Diversity is key to success, and collaborating in diverse teams that bring many perspectives will create products that deeply resonate with customers.

How to Create a SAFE Space

While SAY acknowledged the necessity of diverse teams, they emphasised that simply having that ‘rainbow’ in the room will not unlock maximum performance if certain colours are quiet. In order to produce the best results, companies need to create a space for everyone to freely share their ideas and perspectives. SAY created a wonderful acronym to aid in this SAFE space creation: Sharing Acceptance, Fairness, and Empathy.

Acceptance

A 2017 Harvard Business Review study found that in order to encourage success, everyone must have a sense of psychological safety, or a space to feel safe to be themselves. This sense of psychological safety is fostered in two ways:

By accepting people’s diverse experiences, we can create a space for all to feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and not fear failure.

Fairness

While accepting people’s opinions and perspectives is vital, it is a moot point unless everyone’s perspectives are weighed fairly.

‘Creativity and innovation are the result of connecting past experiences. But if you have the same experiences as everyone else, you’re unlikely to look in a different direction and think differently.’ — Steve Jobs.

LinkedIn deemed creativity as the #1 skill for professionals in 2019, 2020, and 2021 after a meta-analysis of thousands of job postings. According to SAY, creativity is the mental process in which two or more ‘dots’ of information connect in your mind to create a new and useful idea.

‘The more unique dots of past experiences you have, the more opportunities you have to come up with new ideas. That’s why it’s important to have diverse experiences in the room.’

Once these creative ideas are presented, they must be weighed equally, regardless of seniority or level. The success of creative ideas is dependent on equal and fair treatment, and only then is it possible to connect them to form new, creative ideas, products, and solutions.

Empathy

Continuing the dot analogy, SAY suggests that ‘empathy in action looks like encouraging those with dots different from your own to speak up.’ Once you’re comfortable embracing your own differences, it’s likely that you’ll be attracted to the unique colours you previously didn’t see or appreciate in others.

Through their own experience, SAY discovered four steps for growing in empathy:

‘When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.’ — Stephen Covey

Bottom line: empathy expands your horizons, which ultimately leads to solving problems creatively.

Why it’s Important

Companies are most innovative and successful when there are more unique dots of experiences to connect. But in order to foster diverse teams, we all need to share acceptance, fairness, and empathy, and that requires collaborating with those who are different. This starts with us honouring our own diversity and embracing our own uniqueness. Consider your unique dots of experiences, and be comfortable sharing those dots with your team. In turn, you’ll be more willing to value the dots of others, generating success and unlocking diversity through a SAFE space.

For more information on SAY, or to purchase their recent publication, visit https://www.sayyang.com/.

DINT is a free online community set up to make connections between people who care about diversity and inclusion in tech. Join us! https://www.joinit.org/o/dint

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