The edge effect happens when you find yourself at the intersection between two places. The concept is based on the idea is that within these in-between places, think river deltas, biodiversity is often richer. The intersection of the ecosystems creates opportunities for life that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
Economies, like ecosystems, also benefit from diversity. In her work on the economy of cities, Jane Jacobs intuitively grasped that the creation of ‘new work’ depended on the ability of different types of work to come into contact with one another.
In their July 2, 2020 NPR Hidden Brain podcast, Shankar Vendantam and his team explore this concept of how creativity and culture intertwine with Adam Galinsky. Adam’s research has proven out the benefits of pulling different people together.
Galinsky has shown that just as ecosystem intersections result in the creation of more complex and diverse life, cultural intersections in human society result in the creation of more complex and diverse ideas.
This has profound implications for innovation, how we work, and our most important human endeavour, the global energy transition we are undertaking to relieve pressure on our atmosphere from rising emissions.
Humans are wired to seek out the familiar. As Dan Kahneman points out in Thinking Fast and Slow, we are creatures of habit by default. Our brains are constantly looking for ways to work more efficiently and predictably. This means we use less energy, and survival is easier.
As Galinsky points out, this happens not just when we drive on autopilot, but when we default to organizing ourselves into groups of people we know, who are of similar ethnicity, in our industry, come from the same background, or speak the same language. I saw this myself at the United Nations. Even in an incredibly diverse workplace like the UN, groups from similar cultures, including my own, tended to self-organize and hire into groupings they were familiar with. The result was often factional in-fighting over ideas
The challenge is that this approach is worse at generating good ideas. We need to correct against our brain’s desire to default to the familiar. Doing so causes us to collectively come up with better ideas. We become more imaginative, and therefore more innovative, which we must be if we are to solve the problem of how we produce a lot more energy with a lot less emissions.
Foresight Accelerator recently launched the CORE Cluster. CORE is built on thousands of interactions with professionals from different walks of life. According to the report that led to the cluster, “at its simplest level, a cluster is a group of firms and institutions operating in the same sector that are in close geographical proximity to each other.”
Clusters also provide an opportunity to engineer these in-between spaces. They can bring different professions, cultures and perspectives together more consistently. This foundational work is difficult to achieve and takes sustained commitment from political, business, nonprofit and academic leaders.
While we can intuitively grasp the benefits of diversity, Galinsky’s work reminds us that it isn’t simply a hunch. It’s science. As governments decide where to allocate post-Covid spending to re-invigorate our economies, they must internalize and support infrastructure that is most efficient at generating quality innovation.
Clusters and other structures that correct for our tendency to seek out those most like us by pulling together diverse groups and providing structures for them to quickly and easily interact, are much more likely to create the innovation we urgently need to restore our social and economic systems while addressing the climate crisis.
In a time when we have all been forced to isolate, it’s a compelling reminder that togetherness and diversity is one of the most essential components in the engine of growth.