Channel 4's Brooke: 'Diversity makes us more creative'

Channel 4's chief marketer says diversity can be a messy business, but it's also the solution.

Always pursue progress. One of the many wonderful things about the human race is our instinctive and relentless urge to improve and invent, regardless of how we might imperil ourselves along the way. In short: to progress. Business can be a great font of progress, especially when creative risk-takers are in the swim. Call them what you like – disruptors, mavericks, challengers – they give birth to new ideas, make them work and keep everyone else on their game. 

It’s all about the people. Everything is about people. Ideas don’t land from Mars. They aren’t snowballed and stress-tested by thin air. You need the best people you can get and you need to allow them the space to excel and thrive. You also need diversity. 

The easiest places to work are where everyone’s the same: fewer disagreements, fewer misunderstandings 

Diversity is not ‘a problem’; it’s ‘the solution’. I passionately believe in diversity. Human differences come in all shapes and sizes – but gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and social background often have a disproportionate impact on identity. People with different identities have different ideas and different ideas have a knack of being successful.

Diverse groups bring out the best in individuals too. Why? Because we each know there’s more competition for ideas in the mix, so we work harder at ours, to make it the winner. At the same time, we are also more likely to incorporate positive parts of other people’s ideas, as well as listen to them more intently in the first place. That’s what diversity does: it makes us more innovative, more creative and more commercially successful. My colleagues John Allison and Chris Bovill are shining examples. 

Diversity can be messy and inclusion is its best friend. The easiest places to work are where everyone’s the same: fewer disagreements, fewer misunderstandings. An easier life, yes, but a safer, less successful one. Diversity can be a messy business, make no mistake. That’s one reason inclusion is there – to make sure diversity fully flowers.

You need to give off the right corporate pheromones to attract people who are different to you. But when they’re in, you should invest in their training and mentoring and, if relevant, tailored initiatives such as agile working. This will bring out the best in people and help them progress – as individuals and in their messy groups. Senior management is often like me – pale, male, straight, socially advantaged and non-"superhuman". As well as encouraging diverse hiring, our special job is to manage the messiness. That’s hard and sometimes it feels like diversity of thought is not leading you to the promised land. But keep going – the milk and honey will come.

A little passion goes a long way

Innovation is a messy business too. Innovation is about setting off on journeys. Of course you have a purpose – such as promoting the Paralympics – but the beauty of creativity is that it rarely follows an expected path. It twists and turns, builds in layers, sometimes goes backwards. So be purposeful but versatile – look ahead, not in the mirrors, and grip the gearstick lightly.

Questions are as important as answers. Do we have the right people? Are we bringing out the best in them? Are we being ambitious enough? Do we have the right mix of science and art at play? Are the edges still on that idea or have they been well-meaningly sandpapered? 

The edges are usually better on than off. We had debates about the bomb in "Meet the superhumans" and the everyday people in "We’re the superhumans". "This might offend people", "That might turn them off". It’s easiest to take the edges off, but often the edges are what people love the most.

A little passion goes a long way. I love what Channel 4 stands for. In the Venn diagram of our respective values, there’s an almost total eclipse of the moon. People want to hear that. Another of my passions is art. I like artists and I like the cut of their jib. Take Andy Warhol: "They say that time changes things, but really you need to get in there and change them yourself." Or Pablo Picasso: "I do not seek, I find." Those are my favourites.

Dan Brooke is chief marketing and communications officer at Channel 4 and the group's board champion for diversity. He was previously managing director at Discovery Networks UK.

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