Diversity Drives Creativity
How a diverse group of people invented a wildlife biodome
Over the last few months we’ve noticed a subtle shift in the narrative surrounding climate change. The storyline seems to be widening to include ‘diversity’ and a ‘fairer society’. Some cynical commentators have likened the trend to pork-barrel politics with the black lives matter movement attempting to accelerate change by attaching to the faster moving snowball of the climate movement. We believe that something more profound is going on.
For a long time environmentalists and climate scientists have been advocating for diversity. They understand that the nature of biodiversity with its rich variety of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms is what holds our ecosystem together, delivering oxygen, clean air and water, pollination of plants, pest control, wastewater treatment and many ecosystem services. Indeed, diversity drives nature's productivity.
Monocultures on the other hand can be toxic. They fuel the erosion of our soil accelerating the reduction in plant and animal populations with the consequent risk to our health, food supplies and way of living.
97% of mammals on the planet today are us humans or the livestock that we breed to eat. So, for our health and wellbeing, it makes sense to link the argument for human diversity to the survival of our race and the health of the planet upon which we exist.
To create a more holistic argument we can surely pin an economic case to the greater level of productivity and creativity driven by a more diverse workforce. Yes, happiness is the most critical measure of a team’s productivity assuming equal organisation, but surely diversity is a critical component.
A few years ago the Letts Group challenged a broad coalition of environmentalists, foresters, artists, designers and wildlife proponents to come up with a man made structure that could recreate the ecosystem benefits of a 400 year old oak tree. This slow growing giant of a tree is often cited for its broad based service to nature and carbon sequestration.
The group working on the problem could not have been more diverse. A mix of sexes and race from very different walks of life, ways of working and levels of education. Some were urban, some rural, some had means, some literally lived off the land. All were initially sceptical of the challenge laid down before them.
Some of the team were left brain in their thinking and while others were more right brain. Some risk takers and bigger picture thinkers while others were detailed and analytical. Some were reserved in their opinions, others happy to challenge convention and thinking.
Challenging the groups thinking can be an essential ingredient for rapid, out of the box thinking. And team-based, rapid-invention often comes from direct challenge - which is why we added certain environmental artists into the mix. You can generally rely on an artist to challenge conventional thinking and strip back layers of preconceived ideas.
The Letts family have for decades been bringing together artists and publishers with the media, industrialists and politicians. More recently they have been combining artistic thinking into solution discovery around one of our most pressing problems - the climate crisis.
The fusion of artist and scientist into the melting pot of natural climate solutions has held a key. And most recently this key has given us a new weapon in the battle against global warming and the consequent degradation of nature and its wild inhabitants.
The benefits of the 400 year old oak tree are proven. These magnificent islands of carbon sequestering biodiversity house around 2,000 different types of creatures. Unfortunately we do not have 400 years left to save this planet from the fate of unchecked global warming. We can't just plant our way out of this problem.
As a result, we challenged this diverse, somewhat unnatural crew to attempt to design a man made, natural structure that could be built in a couple of days and that could provide up to 20% of the ecosystem benefits of a 400 year old oak tree.
With the benefit of hindsight and first hand observation it is not so surprising that this diversity-rich team come up with such a simple and potentially effective solution. Today the wildlife biodome is operational in one of our sites and soon to be scaled up and implemented in other Letts Group projects and partners.
From a smartly designed wood base these wildlife biodomes breed bugs, surface worms and bacteria which naturally improve soil structure and health. This helps the soil support a more diverse set of habitats and natural plant life which in turn attract more wildlife and insect diversity. A number of these creatures colonise the wildlife biodomes which house a mix of insects, birds and mammals. Circular indeed.
A slither of hope maybe. The Letts Group’s wildlife biodome still has a way to go but what surely does not require further proof is the sheer power of diversity in delivering innovation and creativity. The diverse nature of the group and their ease of self-challenge brought about by different perspectives on the exact same problem made it happen.
While we may have to wait a little longer for the wildlife biodome to change the climate race we surely do not need to wait to unleash the delta of creativity in our businesses and society by driving diversity deep into the DNA of our teams.
So you see, we may be well served by widening the climate change movement to include diversity and opportunity for all. Indeed it may prove that without the latter we stand much less chance of delivering on the former.