Lord Chris Holmes stage 1 v2

by Lord Chris Holmes, Paralympian, Speaker, Peer

Industry View from


Crisis management? Inclusion and innovation during disruptive times

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The fourth industrial revolution is changing the way we live and work – we must seize the opportunities.


When I was 14, I lost my sight and immediately both everything and nothing changed. This was how I first learned to deal with disruption and the crux of my understanding diversity and inclusion.


I was changed. I had to relearn all the things I used to know – how to get around, read, write, swim. New challenges, new experiences and an additional perspective was the difference – diversity if you will. What did not change was my sense of self, my talents and ambitions. But immediately barriers went up. I was to be sent to a “blind school”. I was a “fire risk” and could no longer train with my swim team.


Getting past the emotional pain was the first challenge but I focused on the fact that these barriers were practical problems that must by their nature have practical solutions. Inclusion meant removing the barriers: putting lessons on cassette tape, teaching myself to touch-type, my swim coach agreeing to keep me on the squad if I stuck to the same training schedule.


Early and fundamental experiences of technology as an enabler provided me with a deep understanding of how inclusive design so often means excellence in design. The talking clock my swim team got to help me time my laps also helped my sighted teammates. Years later when Apple launched products with accessibility features as standard it reaped the rewards in cold-headed business terms, not a warm-hearted feeling about doing the right thing.


I have remained a passionate advocate of technology and inclusion since those early experiences and the juxtaposition of humanity and technology is at the heart of my work. I work with three core assumptions: that we are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, that innovation is essential for making the most of the incredible opportunities afforded by that revolution, and that a genuine understanding of inclusion leads to innovation.


Technology does not need to be miraculous, but it must be sufficient. Does it solve a problem? Does it enable and include? I explore what this means for the talent we seek, how we nurture our people and how we structure our organisations. Elements of the fourth IR – artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, the internet of things, distributed ledger technologies – are the tools that we must learn to work with, but the questions that we must ask (as they always have been) are about ethics, purpose and placing the human at the heart.


With uncertain times comes the need for strong leadership, and I draw on my own experiences to offer lessons on how things can change, how to lead on inclusion and how to enable and empower a completely different culture. As director at London 2012, I was working with the UK’s largest peacetime people mobilisation – how did we develop and deliver the people strategy that was built around, enabling people to do the best work of their lives?


We smashed the silos, removed barriers and hardwired diversity and inclusion through all parts of the organisation. I have continued that mission at Channel 4 and in advising the government. It is a simple message and it remains the same: use data, set targets, be flexible and creative and continue to smash the silos. Inclusion not as a “nice to have”, not as corporate social responsibility, nor parked up in human resources, but as business-critical, a matter for the entire organisation. Everyday inclusion, not just for high days or holidays. If you are not seeing the benefits you are not doing it right.  


These are painfully uncertain times, politically and economically, with austerity, Brexit and the coming wave of automation. It is not surprising that organisations are increasingly considering how to deal with disruption, but I am convinced that we have all the tools we need to be genuinely excited about the future. We must seize the opportunities. If we get the alchemy right between talent and technology, inclusion and innovation, we could truly be the people we always had the potential to be. Facing the future – equipped, enabled, present and purposed.

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