Diversity comes in many different shapes and sizes! Recently I have been enthralled by Cognitive Diversity.
Cognitive diversity means including a variety of people with different thought patterns, ideas, problem-solving methods and mental perspectives.
Cognitive diversity tends to get much less attention than identity diversity because it’s harder to see and isn’t related to mandatory compliance efforts.
It is defined as differences in perspective or information processing styles. It is not predicted by factors such as gender, ethnicity, or age.
So it’s no surprise that there is a significant correlation between high cognitive diversity and high performance within teams.
A high degree of cognitive diversity generates accelerated learning and performance in the face of new, uncertain, and complex situations.
If cognitive diversity is what we need to succeed in dealing with new, uncertain, and complex situations, we need to encourage people to reveal and deploy their different modes of thinking.
While diverse thinking and disagreements can be uncomfortable, they are more likely to lead partners or a team to make progress, innovate and come up with breakthrough solutions than consensus and “nice” conversations in which people hold back what they think.
Problems are better solved with a group of diverse thinkers. But… I know from experience: that only applies if you know how to leverage your diversity.
The first step in knowing how to use it, is to assess your teams’ thinking style composition.
While logic-minded employees have tendencies to support their judgement and ideas with data and evidence, employees who function within their emotional judgement may provide their opinions with principles and values in mind. A combination of these traits can work well together when forming and developing ideas.
As humans, we’re already wired to recognize and reinforce ideas that are the most similar to our own, and dismiss conflicting ideas.
This is an example of cognitive bias, and it happens subconsciously. So when no one is around to object or even present other ways of looking at a problem, this tendency toward ‘groupthink’ gets even stronger.
Even though employees might instinctively approach a problem differently than their peers or have a conflicting perspective, many of them keep quiet and agree with the status quo in order to advance their own careers. In some cases, this pressure to conform may even be happening subconsciously.
This tendency to conform will be especially pronounced if employees have learned through leaders’ words and actions that conflict and disagreement are not tolerated.
This can be quite damaging, because respectful conflict keeps a company or organization innovative and in-touch.
“What happens in a group-think company when something new/big arrives, like mobile or digital? One person says ‘Pfft, that’s a fad’ and everyone else agrees. There’s no cognitive diversity.”