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Perspective from a Global CTO – Diverse Experiences Drive Innovation

Why does so much of the global manufacturing activity happen in China? Hint: it is not just about cost.

Why do so many high-tech startups come from the Bay Area even with so many of the top tech universities located on the East Coast – CMU, MIT, Virginia Tech, etc?

It is proven that human beings use their past experiences to react to current situations, solve problems and make decisions. Even robots perform better when they gain different experiences – but not as much with repetitions of the same experience. So, it seems logical to say, adding diverse experiences to a person’s life would allow them to use those experiences to solve problems and make better decisions. Look at the background of most American CEOs. You will find they have worked in very different jobs (gaining different experiences) and most have even lived and worked in different countries. Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, Bill McDermott, Jack Ma, Kevin Johnson have all gained a wealth of experiences by working in different industries and countries. Refer to the article Diversity and the New CEOs by Richard L. Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff for more details.

Let me tell you a personal anecdote. After 10 years of working in Microsoft USA, I was sent to start two Asian Global Tech Support Centers (one in Bangalore and one in Shanghai). Part of my responsibility was to refine existing processes that worked so well in the US and deliver them efficiently from India and China. One of the things that I learned to do over a period of time was to get 20 of the best employees in India and tell them “do not change this process since it works in the US”. Sure enough, after a short duration, a few of them came back with a more efficient process that would work better in India. Then I would take the same process and say the same thing to my Shanghai team. Instead, this team would follow the process down to the letter. Different experiences from different countries make people behave differently in the same situations. I had figured out a way to use the regional diversity to define better processes and to deliver them consistently the same way.

Different experiences from different countries make people behave differently in the same situations.

My 20 years of global experience evidenced the logical conclusion that diversity of experiences can improve decision-making. The question is, why do so many managers continue to hire people who have similar experiences or even similar looks?

Why limit diversity to only people from different countries? The book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray talks so much about how men and women think differently. Don’t those differences also help us with solving problems in the workplace and making better decisions? Of course they do, as we see this all the time in families that engage every member to make family decisions.

Diversity also helps companies create better products as well – especially for the business-to-consumer (B2C) space. How can people with only one set of experiences create products fit for such a diverse world?

Let me tell you another story. A personal computer (PC) was thought of by Microsoft to satisfy one user at a time, till a few senior leaders went to a school in India. In that school, we saw 20-25 kids learning from one computer. One student was driving the computer while all others were watching the monitor. The learning was only for one kid while the others just watched a movie. After a lot of deliberation, Microsoft designed a computer that could have multiple screens and multiple input devices to serve the third-world school market. A product that worked for the richer countries was now modified for the third world country, opening a huge new market for Microsoft.

It is proven that human beings use their past experiences to react to current situations, solve problems and make decisions.

If having different experiences helps with better problem solving, better decision making, and better product designing, then how can corporations provide these diverse experiences to their employees? Sending every employee on assignments (like Microsoft did for me) is not possible. Then why not make a team with those diverse experiences? The solution is to teach managers to hire people from a broad span of backgrounds so their teams can be more effective and more impactful on a global scale.

Manish Sinha, TNCR Contributing CIO
Manish an award-winning CIO/CTO, having won the “CIO of the Year” from Pittsburgh Technology Council (PTC) in 2016. Since 2018, Manish has served as the corporate CTO of L'Oreal Paris, overseeing Global Employee Experience, and the infrastructure of global functions including Human Resources, Research & Innovation, and Manufacturing.
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