When I moved to the U.S., I started working at the community college library in Santa Fe, NM.
Some students only came to the library to see me, because a new foreign person was working there. I felt so special that they wanted to talk to me and ask for my opinion. As some students told me, it was interesting for them to get a fresh, diverse perspective and to learn more about me.
Coming from Moscow, which has a population of more than 12 million people, I was not used to a lot of attention for being “different.” But in Santa Fe, my diversity of thought set me apart.
Diversity of thought, also known as cognitive diversity, refers to the notion that each of us is unique; that we are raised and brought up differently, and we have different personal and professional experiences which influence how we think and interpret information. And this acknowledgment has become a core part of many companies’ efforts to drive innovation in their organizations and industries.
Diversity of thought has been found to be helpful to:
- Avoid groupthink
- Overcome subjective overconfidence
- Listen to underrepresented opinions
- Be aware of unconscious biases and look beyond stereotypes
While cognitive diversity is “defined as differences in perspectives or information processing styles” and is less visible than racial or cultural diversity, it shouldn’t be ignored. Recent research by Alison Reynolds and David Lewis found a significant correlation between cognitive diversity and high performance. They have run the execution exercise more than 100 times over the last 12 years with groups comprised of senior executives, MBA students, general managers, scientists, teachers and teenagers. In their research, teams with greater cognitive diversity performed faster, irrespective to their gender, ethnicity and age.
How to Increase Diversity of Thought
There are a number of different ways that leaders can increase diversity of thought in their organizations. Some of these include:
Hiring outside of the box
Once not known as a place that promoted a diverse talent, Silicon Valley is now thinking ahead by embracing neurodiversity. Many people with autism and/or dyslexia have higher than average abilities and can “bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics.” Everyone to some extent is differently abled, we are all born and raised differently. Our ways of thinking result from both our inherent “machinery” and the experiences that have “programmed” us. Companies like SAP, Hewlett Packard, IBM, UBS and others are starting to adjust their policies to meet a broader pool of neurodiverse talent. Hiring diverse talent creates a major shift, and leaders are trying to adopt a new style of management or provide accommodations to cater to their needs.
Managing differently by facilitating open dialogues, creating a safe environment and assessing your employees:
- Values and styles
- Ways of thinking (divergent and convergent thinking)
- Ways to approach a problem
Brainstorming: To diversify our thinking, consider using the six hat exercise which has been an effective way to approach a problem.
White Hat Thinking: Focus on the data available.
- What data is available?
- What information do you already have? What is missing?
Red Hat Thinking: Look at problems using reaction, and emotion.
- How do other people react to this area?
Black Hat Thinking: Look at all the bad points of the decision. Look at it cautiously and defensively.
- What could go wrong with approach in this area?
- What are the biggest challenges?
Yellow Hat Thinking: This is the optimistic viewpoint that helps you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it.
- What gets people excited?
- What are my team’s strengths?
- What would success look like?
Green Hat Thinking: This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas.
- What are the possibilities?
- How would an outsider approach this area?
Blue Hat Thinking: ‘Blue Hat Thinking’ represents process control. Mostly used when there is at least one other leader involved in the decision making process to determine when you need to “put on another hat.”
- What is the next step?
- What is our decision?
In The Medici Effect, Frans Johansson suggests breaking barriers to create innovation by learning a new field, breaking out of your network and reversing your assumptions. But, as illustrated in my personal example, even small changes can make a big difference. By adding socially diverse people to a group, people learn from different perspectives and experiences.
To increase a diversity of thought in organizations, leaders need to keep asking questions and challenge what’s in front of them, whether it is their talent, management style, or approach to a problem. That way they could see an opportunity where others won’t to stay ahead of the competition and to keep an inclusive workplace.