The Value of Thought Diversity

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As much as we have learned the importance of diversity in the workplace, it is often focused on gender, race and ethnicity. Thought diversity is more subtle, but just as important. That’s because our thoughts are guided by where we focus our attention and, all too often, we seek the comfort of confirmation rather than the anxiety of challenging our assumptions.

This deficit in thought diversity is limiting our overall understanding, undermining the ability to truly connect and collaborate with others, and detrimental to the creativity necessary for solving the most challenging problems.

Think about how:

  • Our family, friends and acquaintances are made up primarily of people who share and reaffirm our individual identity of who we are and what we believe.
  • Our neighbors likely share a socio-economic demographic that continually reinforces our perspectives directly based on our geographic point of reference.
  • Our individual news feeds are chosen to maintain rather than challenge our perspectives on the economy, politics, entertainment, environment, and other subjects.
  • Our social networks are filled with those who align with our unique views and opinions, enabling more “follows,” “likes,” and “shares.”
  • Our entire digital footprint is making it so advertisers can provide us with information tailored to what they believe we want and limit our attention from going elsewhere.
  • Our workplace, though there may be some diversity in race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability and/or sexuality, it may not be a place that encourages diversity of thoughts, opinions or perspectives.

Too often a hiring manager and HR partner—after first singling out candidates who possess the necessary skills and experience—look for the one who fits the corporate culture, which may unfortunately lead to groupthink. This cultural fit may actually undermine the ability to bring about diversity of thought.

In his book The Difference, University of Michigan economist Scott Page describes a unique way to hire people to maximize diversity of thought within an organization. In the study, three candidates interviewed for two vacant positions on a research team. All candidates were asked the same 10 questions: Jeff correctly answered 7 of 10, Rose 6 of 10, and Spencer 5 of 10.

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Many organizations would hire Jeff and Rose because these two candidates garnered the highest cumulative score. Another reason is that HR managers spend a lot of time and money-making sure that their people all think the same. They value “consistency and efficiency over individual flair.”

If the hiring manager and HR manager, however, spend time examining which questions each candidate answered correctly, they will notice that Spencer, the lowest overall scorer, correctly answered every question that Jeff, the highest scorer, incorrectly answered. As such, Spencer presumably brings a different way of thinking to the organization—and quite possibly more value.

Thought diversity at work is vital as it enables out-of-the-box thinking to bring about creative solutions to 21st century challenges.

Some companies use the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, four-color personality test or other 4-grid assessment in order to identify and differentiate employees as this helps each person to understand the benefits and drawbacks in each type. The larger lesson is that there is wisdom when all four types or colors are represented as it can help bring about diversity in thought to arrive at the best solutions.

Diversity of thought can come in many forms, and it needs to be encouraged in the way organizations both hire and manage their workers.

Thought diversity places the focus on an individual’s mind, which is influenced by his or her experiences, culture, background and personality. It is not rooted in opinions, but in thought processes and problem solving abilities.

The primary benefits of thought diversity include:

  • Reduction in groupthink because different perspectives encourage everyone to bring their own perspective based on their unique background and personality.
  • Creative tension that enables fresh ideas and out-of-the-box thinking, which can sometimes be messy, but ultimately leads to new insights.
  • Increased employee engagement as everyone feels that their opinion and ideas matter, and that they have value in reaching the best solutions.
  • Attracting Millennials who are looking to join those organizations that foster an inclusive culture where they can be most successful.

Thought diversity should be included in every organization’s diversity initiatives. It makes sense when choosing who to hire and it makes sense in how to manage employees. When people are actively encouraged to present different perspectives and ideas to challenge assumptions and the status quo, that’s when you’ll see new insights, innovation, collaboration, and the very best of teamwork.

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