Avoid groupthink: Diverse viewpoints in an organization foster innovation

Last updated on January 17th, 2022 at 01:44 pm

In today’s world, the tried and true refrain that a “picture tells a thousand words” has never been more true, especially if a business can tell its story in video.

Video production is now a major business and is ubiquitous as millions of consumers watch them on websites, through emails and on their smartphones. Even the weather has gone video, with moving weather patterns developing before our eyes on our mobile devices!

And competition is fierce for those that provide a video experience for customers. It includes not just the usual cast of major corporate players with their own production studios, but thousands of standalone small shops, to one-person firms, to even self-made DIY solutions.

Rich Schmig founded a firm, Plum Media, that has grown successfully in this space for more than 20 years. The use of the name Plum connotes “best in class” images and the color purple helps the business stand out.

There are multiple reasons Milwaukee-based Plum Media has succeeded, but I am just going highlight two of them.

First is the concept of homophily. This is defined as our normal tendency to seek out or be attracted by people like ourselves.

There is a universal tendency to affiliate with teams, groups or tribes that we identify with. When we interview candidates, we often fall into the trap to hiring people who have qualities that make us feel comfortable.

But according to Noam Wasserman in his book, “Life Is a Startup,” that is a recipe for disaster.

It is far more important to promote diverse thinking as the key to preventing “groupthink” in your organization. Therefore, we should be looking for people with different skill sets and backgrounds from ours.

So, Schmig deliberately hires talent from different “gene pools” in his industry: those employees who have a history in the broadcast industry, those from independent firms that have a history of creative accomplishments and those from other walks of video life.

That assures an ongoing debate within the company and a flourishing of diverse thinking to help clients develop their video strategy.

The second management practice that sets Plum apart is its approach to “design thinking,” the current gold standard in the creative process.

In their recent co-authored piece, “The Right Way to Lead Design Thinking,” in Harvard Business Review, CEO Christian Bason of Danish Design Centre and Professor Robert Austin of the Ivey Business School argue that it’s very difficult for any design team to get beyond its own perspective and thinking patterns to get into the heads of customers.

They recommend that business leaders approach “ethnographic research” with an open mind and probing questions to get inside the customer’s thinking. The goal is to ensure a process in which employees focus on customers’ needs and wants, uncolored by their biases.

This is not easy. Most of us see the world from our own vantage point. It’s a philosophical truism.

There has to be a continual study to illuminate the user’s real needs even if that requires that the inquiry process go sideways. It’s critical to resist jumping to solutions when thinking you know what customers need.

Plum Media prides itself on doing in-depth research of its client’s customer base. The company will do it in multiple ways, which may include actual face-to-face interviews, as well as digging deep through surveys.

This is critical because it recognizes that the viewer habits of today are in constant change, sometimes on a daily basis.

Plum’s methods focus on uncovering the real needs of the customers, which allows it to create video productions that will resonate with customers, create the “wow” experience and deliver the desired results.

The firm has an in-house staff with a  wide range of diversity in skill sets to make this inquiry so much more robust. It includes in-house talent with expertise in filmmaking, theater skills, broadcasting, journalism, copywriting, animation and live streaming. A team like this is far more capable of ascertaining and addressing the needs of the customer in video.

The bottom line for any business to succeed in this fast-changing world of disruptive technology is to grasp the importance of composing teams with diverse talent to uncover real customer needs.

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Dan Steininger is the president and founder of BizStarts. He is also the president of Steininger & Associates. The firm focuses on teaching the tools of innovation to drive growth for companies in all sectors of the economy. Steininger is a former president and CEO of Catholic Financial Life and a graduate of Marquette University and Boston University's School of Law.