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The Big Idea in Innovation

Chang’an (长安), Luoyang (洛阳), Nalanda, Alexandria, Athens, Rome, Paris, London, L.A., cities of the ancient and our modern worlds. What do they have in common? They either were or are centres where people gathered to exchange goods and ideas. Governors and residents of these cities integrate and assimilate new cultures and customs into their local communities, thus forming multicultural societies.

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A few of them were along the ancient Silk Road, where trades between the East and West made wealthy merchants and prosperous communities. The societies became more affluent because they welcomed diversity to make them better. It is a perfect example of finding a shared goal, leveraging the differences, et voila, resulting in greater value for all.

As Winston Churchill once said, “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.” When we trace the history of the “rise and fall” of ancient mega-cities around the world, we cannot ignore the importance of integrating and assimilating multi-culturalism.

According to Harvard University’s research published in 2019 (Driving Diversity and Inclusion – The Role for Chairs and CEOs), there are four statistics that stood out for organizations where senior leadership champions Diversity and Inclusion: 25% of the employees become more engaged, 47% more creative, 41% feel they belong, and 43% likely to stay.

It is like building the ancient cities (remember the video game, Civilization?) Ensuring a stable, harmonious and engaging society will create a sense of belonging. It, in turn, will grow or attract more talents and resources. The community can then be more ready to withstand unexpected calamities and prosper.

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While we may not be Kings or Queens of nations or governors of cities, and we may no longer have the time to play video games, we can certainly apply the lessons derived from those who have built mega-cities of the past. With the advancement of technology, diversity is a given in our society today. Yet, inclusivity must take hearts, minds and conscious effort to exercise.

“If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.“ – Steven Johnson, Science author & media theorist.

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Let’s not speak about D&I for the sake of having to jump on the bandwagon because it is the latest B-School’s buzzword, for it will backfire when it is not authentic. The concept has been there thousands of years ago and has served as the foundation of great civilizations. Let that wisdom guide us in our increasingly connected world so that we continue to innovate and make our world a better place for all.

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