The power of diversity: we learn the most from those we have the least in common with

June 1, 2017

  Dr. Joseph DeSimone—CEO & Co-Founder, Carbon

The power of diversity: We learn the most from those we have the least in common with

Recent milestones at Carbon—namely, the launch of our SpeedCell™ manufacturing system and the announcement of our partnership with adidas to mass produce customized athletic shoes—signal a sea change for 3D printing. After decades of relative stagnancy, the manufacturing sector now has a proven additive manufacturing solution:  we are delivering at scale for a demanding global consumer brand. Beyond footwear with adidas, Carbon’s M-series printers are being used for production in consumer products, the automotive industry, and numerous other areas.

Yet, as we charge forward with the intention to shape this vast new world of 3D manufacturing, it is also important to pause and reflect on how we got here. I have spent most of my career as a university professor leading a large research group at the cutting edge of fields including materials science and nanomedicine. Reflecting on my lab’s progress over time, it is clear that many principles of success that drive academic labs to the forefront of creating new knowledge are equally important for innovative companies at the forefront of creating new, and better, products.

Two principles in particular that I have found to be powerful in a university research setting have also contributed strongly to our successes thus far at Carbon, namely:  structuring teams to harness the power of diversity to drive innovation, and fostering the convergence of diverse concepts from many fields to solve challenging problems.

Starting with different fields and perspectives

Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis™ technology that powers our M-series printers began with the convergence of diverse disciplines. Looking at 3D printing differently, we joined insights from physics and chemistry to create our novel approach. We neither had prior experience in 3D printing, nor backgrounds in mechanical engineering, but we saw this as an advantage:  our outsider perspectives as chemists and physicists enabled us to bridge ideas from different fields to create a wholly new approach.

A growing body of research supports the notion that having a diverse team leads to better outcomes when pursuing a common goal. Inventing our technology underscored the importance of disciplinary diversity, specifically. And in fact, I believe that much of Carbon’s momentum since stems from the vibrant exchange of ideas among our staff with expertise in areas ranging from chemistry and materials science, to business and finance, to hardware and software, to customer service and support.

Interestingly, though, identity diversity—as in, a diversity of inherent characteristics that make people who they are—plays an equally important role.

Identity diversity

“Diversity—not just of knowledge and expertise, but of identity—has been shown to be a driver of productivity and innovation”

This is true in my own experience in academic research and also at Carbon. I like to think of diversity as a fundamental tenet of innovation. A team composed of people from all walks of life—with a diversity of race, gender, culture, faith, sexual orientation, nationality, personality, and many other factors—enables a diversity of perspectives to flourish. Innovation is the result.

“There is no more fertile ground for innovation than a diversity of experience. And that diversity of experience arises from a difference of cultures, ethnicities, and life backgrounds”

A successful scientific endeavor is one that attracts a diversity of experience, draws upon the breadth and depth of that experience, and cultivates those differences, acknowledging the creativity they spark.

In other words, inherent human characteristics shape one’s experience of and in the world, and as a result, influence how individuals view and approach challenges. As an ambitious, forward-looking company, I believe Carbon benefits significantly from the way different problem-solving approaches among our team members come together to generate innovative ideas.

Besides, differences in people are what make humans interesting in the first place and result in the most dynamic and lively discussions—about additive manufacturing, or about anything. Structuring teams around this notion leads to the best insights, and helps us create a culture at Carbon that is not only innovation-focused, but also truly fun to be a part of.

A platform for the convergence of diverse people, disciplines, and sectors

Just as our Digital Light Synthesis™ technology was formed through the convergence of concepts from diverse fields, the technology itself also provides a platform for bringing together the broadest range of disciplines. At Carbon, we are already integrating materials science with hardware and software capabilities that Silicon Valley companies are legendary for advancing. We view this as a new era, where through this integration, the digital revolution has reached the polymer manufacturing world for the first time.

Polymer manufacturing touches nearly every sector and all people. Our technology offers new possibilities for companies everywhere to rethink design processes, accelerate product development cycles, streamline supply chains, and transform entire business models. Together with our partners in areas ranging from medicine to aerospace, we aim to realize a vision of decentralized, democratized manufacturing that is cost effective at any volume, and that enables mass customization and on-demand inventory to become a reality.

Truly realizing this vision requires the participation of people with many different backgrounds, experiences, and types of expertise.

“Diverse ideas power progress.”

If 3D printing is going to transform manufacturing, then we must focus on including the greatest range of ideas and perspectives possible. Already, the needs, perspectives, and creativity of our diverse and pioneering partners are illuminating how part production will be transformed in the 21st century. In this context especially, I believe it is crucial to cultivate differences, look outward, and be welcoming of all people. This involves actively countering insularity, intolerance, and discrimination.

Carbon and its partners share a common vision for the advancement of better products that improve human comfort and performance. As we find ourselves at the beginning of a bespoke manufacturing movement, we are excited for a future of new possibilities for products and for people—likely including possibilities that no one has thought of yet—rooted in the convergence of diverse ideas of those from all walks of life, and intended to reinvent how parts and products are designed, engineered, made, and delivered.

Of Interest:

Driving convergence with human diversity“; DeSimone, J. M.; Farrell, C. L.; Science Translational Medicine, 2014, (6)238, 1-2.

Organic Polymer Chemistry in the Context of Novel Processes“; DeSimone, J.M.; Mecham, S. J.; Farrell, C. L.; ACS Central Science, 2016.

National Research Council, Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2014); available at

S. E. Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ, 2007).