Jennifer Bailey loves surrounding herself with diversity, whether of people and cultures, or ideas, or art and music. “I love pushing my mind in completely unexpected places,” says the assistant professor of technology and operations management. “It gives me joy.” Born in Jamaica, she worked as an engineer and a supply-chain consultant before becoming a professor. Describing herself as a creative person who is enriched by experiencing art, Bailey examines in her work how creativity and innovation can be managed in the workplace.
Tell me about Jamaica. I think one of the things that is different about Jamaica is the ethnic diversity. Our national motto is “Out of Many, One People.” It really is awesome. You can literally see it in the range of hues. We have every hue possible because of all the mixtures, all the combinations— Chinese and African and Indian, some European.
You love art. Are you an artist yourself? I’m not an artist. I do sing. I sang a cappella all through undergrad. I also started a Caribbean folk group, and so I was a music director for that. I’ve also volunteered as a choir director for a women’s shelter. I find harmonies to be very healing. The connection that you can make through music, the communication that you can have without having said anything, that’s what I love about it.
How do creativity and operations management mix? I am creative at heart, and that’s in everything I do. But operations management is the antithesis of all of that, right? It’s very logical, very structured. So I wanted something where I could bridge both of those worlds. As I was studying operations management, I chose to study managing innovation because it allowed me to think about the creative process.
How can I be more innovative in my own life? Go to a space that’s unrelated to the problem you’re trying to solve. If you’re trying to fix your car, go to a flower show. Maybe you see the way that the flowers are arranged and that gives you an idea about how the gears should be. You just never know. So do the antithesis of whatever you’re trying to solve. Look for the unexpected. The biggest problem, and we see it in companies all the time, is they get down a path and there’s just tunnel vision. So forward-thinking companies always hire diverse talent, or, if they’re really forward thinking, they hire a florist to join the engineering team! —John Crawford