Diversity in teams, the key to innovation. Interview with Ernö Péter
A multidisciplinary team, bringing different points of view and analysis, experiences and skills, is a key driver to foster creativity and drive innovation. "The more diversity in your team, the greater the guarantee of success", states Ernö Péter, a member of the SENER's Motor de Innovación (Innovation Engine) team, when we talk to him about the influence that diversity has on teams and their capacity for innovation, as well as on one's own professional development.
Ernö, your career has always been closely linked to innovation. You have a PhD in Naval Engineering, you are part of the FORAN development team and you are one of the core members of the SENER's Motor de Innovación team; tell us about your career.
In my professional career I have worked in various areas, from software development in the Naval field for several companies, to being Project Manager in an R+D+i project inspired by my Doctoral Thesis, to working at the University; a stage in which I highlight my role as a mentor of several student associations linked to the participation in international engineering and design competitions. In addition, I have developed other projects as diverse as the conceptual design of drones or the composition of soundtracks for short animated films. In short, I have always tried to be wherever I could exploit creativity and my desire to innovate.
Eight years ago, I joined SENER (quite an opportunity for a Naval Engineer!) as a member of the FORAN development team, a CAD/CAM/CAE system developed and patented by SENER that is a worldwide benchmark in the field of Shipbuilding.
My interest in innovation led me in 2019 to participate in corporate initiatives linked to Industry 4.0 and at the beginning of 2020 I joined the Motor de Innovación team (Innovation Engine), which was created with the aim of driving innovation at SENER. Together with my colleagues Meritxell Cusido Roura and Arturo Basurto Arana, we work towards this goal, combining it with the rest of our activities in the company.
Diversity makes the team more efficient and any interaction extremely enriching. We all learn from each other and that attitude is what can make us better.Ernö Peter
In your opinion, what effect does heterogeneity have on a team?
From my point of view, it is absolutely fundamental.
Both in my work in the FORAN group and in the Innovation Engine team and other teams to which I have been linked at some point in SENER, there is a great diversity among the people who make up the team. This makes the team as a whole much more powerful.
As far as FORAN is concerned, we are talking about software development and we have Naval Engineers, Industrial Engineers, Civil Engineers... mathematicians, computer scientists; all of them are top level, with different backgrounds and degrees of experience, from juniors to people with extensive professional experience.
This diversity makes the teams, both development and support, more efficient and any interaction extremely enriching. We all learn from each other and that attitude is what can make us better.
The same is true at the core of the Motor de Innovación. The three people who form part of the core are different in terms of professional and life experience as well as generational level, but that is precisely the virtue of a team that has its great meeting point in the passion for innovation, engineering and technology. If we talk about the whole Motor de Innovación team, diversity remains one of the key factors.
I didn't look for people who were the same as me, I looked for diversity of knowledge, of personality, of experience; but the key was always to ensure that we were all focused on the same goal and that we all contributed to it.Ernö Peter
How do you think this diversity affects our professional development: in terms of talent development or innovation capacity?
It is a key part of our professional growth to surround ourselves with people who are different from ourselves. Another person with the same personal and professional experience, the same way of seeing things and dealing with them, is unlikely to be able to contribute something new, to be a point of reference, an example to follow. There would probably be too many coincidences and, therefore, fewer opportunities to discover new ways of approaching problems and solutions.
My life has been linked to innovation and everything related to creativity since I was a kid. Whenever I have had innovative ideas, I have always created teams based on that diversity as a fundamental point. I didn't look for people who were the same as me, I looked for diversity of knowledge, of personality, of experience; but the key was always to ensure that we were all focused on the same goal and that we all contributed to it.
The digital transformation is impacting the corporate culture of companies. What impact do you think it will have on equality, diversity and inclusion processes? How does work-life balance fit into this transformation?
The digital transformation is more of a universalisation of being digital. Many of us have been living in the digital sphere for a long time, but now digital is and will be the thread that runs through most of our activity. The impact of this universalisation of digital can be very positive if it is adopted gradually and with a clear understanding of the needs in each case, never taking things to the extreme and never rushing things.
A key aspect of digitalisation is remote working, which has arrived like a tsunami in our lives. This can greatly favour work-life balance, it offers us tools that allow us to work ubiquitously, but I am one of those who believe that proximity to your team is also necessary.
A good idea can come from an individual person, (...) but to evolve that idea it is essential to surround yourself with a team that believes in your idea and is committed to it. If you achieve that, it is the first sign that the idea is worth working on and to evolve.Ernö Peter
What advice would you give us to expand our capacity to innovate in alignment with diversity?
I believe that a good idea can come from an individual person, derived from the detection of a problem, a real demand or even from nothing, and that the idea creates a new need among people; but to evolve that idea it is essential to surround yourself with a team, a team that believes in your idea and is committed to it. If you achieve that, it is the first sign that the idea is worth working on and to evolve, but it is not enough; the team has to be diverse, made up of people who do not think like you.
If you are part of a group made up of people with different experience and knowledge; people with very critical and sceptical profiles, who have the ability to justifiably and constructively question everything; people who put your feet on the ground, to whom you have to justify your proposals; people who are dreamers and idealists but who, at the same time, have a market vision; then you can start to think that your idea has possibilities.
The more diversity in your team, the greater the guarantee of success.