Diversity Changes The Way We Think

Diversity Changes The Way We Think

by Felicity Menzies
The conclusion from decades of research is that if you want to build teams or organisations capable of innovating and making optimal decisions, you need diversity. Kathleen Phillips explains why in a review of the research for Scientific Amercian, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter”.

INFORMATIONAL DIVERSITY

The key to understanding the positive influence of diversity on innovation and problem-solving is the concept of informational diversity. Diversity increases the breadth of information available for creative problem-solving.
This makes obvious sense when we talk about diversity of disciplinary backgrounds – think about the different expertise involved in building a car, for example. The same logic applies to social diversity. People who are different from one another in race, gender, culture or other social dimension bring unique knowledge, experience, and ideas that can be drawn upon for creative problem-solving.
Innovating for diverse consumer segments, in particular, relies on social diversity. A  socially and culturally diverse workforce is better able to understand the needs and concerns of diverse customers and that understanding can be applied to broaden the appeal of existing products and services or to create new solutions for diverse groups.

IMPROVED INFORMATION PROCESSING

However, diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives and ideas to the table. Diversity also changes the way we think.
Researchers have shown that diverse groups engage in higher-quality processing of available information compared to homogenous teams. Social diversity on a team prompts individuals to apply greater cognitive effort in problem-solving. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity does not.
Homogeneity encourages lazy thinking. Members of a homogenous group assume that they will largely agree with one another. That they will understand one another’s perspectives and beliefs. That they will easily come to a consensus.
In contrast, members of a diverse group expect to work harder to reach consensus. This encourages a more thorough examination of one’s viewpoints and a more critical scrutiny of opposing perspectives. In this way, social diversity leads to more sophisticated thinking, which improves judgment and decision-making as well as stimulates novel ideas and divergent thinking.
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Felicity Menzies is CEO and Principal Consultant at Include-Empower.Com, a diversity and inclusion consultancy with expertise in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, cultural intelligence and inclusion, gender equity, empowering diverse talent. Felicity is an accredited facilitator with the Cultural Intelligence Centre and the author of A World of Difference. Felicity has over 15 years of experience working with and managing diverse workforces in blue chip companies and is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand. Felicity also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.