One of the most eye-opening activities we do in our work is to put teams and employees together into various groups based on the way they think (and behave) and have them perform challenging tasks of problem-solving and creativity. Without fail, when teams are put in groups where there is diversity in thinking styles, they come to the conclusion that diversity in thought is a clear booster of the way they work and their performance. In most cases, this realization is buoyed by the actual results of the exercise—more creative, comprehensive solutions reached more quickly.
It’s a powerful message, but some of the power is due to a lack of diversity in thinking styles in many organizations, particularly in the reaches of upper management. There’s a reason people are leaders, the conventional wisdom would state—right? Well, not so fast. What happens when one leader is effective? Organizations have a tendency to clone the thinking, behavioral, and personality styles of that leader. The danger quickly becomes group-think or solutions that only meet a portion of the problem.
The article “Think about Diversity of Thought” in Diversity Executive points out the potential benefits of diversity in thinking styles, stating:
“The return on investment for diversity of thought can be found in increased performance of a truly engaged workforce that collaborates and embraces creative ideas for a holistic audience. It brings in fresh information, and the independence of thought keeps employees and the organization from being swayed by a single opinion leader.”
Diversity of thought brings clear advantages to the table, including:
- A clearer perspective for a broad audience segment – Your target markets and audiences are diverse and made up of the full gamut of thinking and behavioral styles; utilize in-house resources to ensure communication is on point across the board.
- Creative tension – With diversity in thinking styles, the creative process becomes a more combative (in a good way) formula, where the best ideas rise and usually are a combination of many perspectives.
- Employee engagement – When employees know their thinking and behavioral styles are appreciated, engagement and the propensity to contribute goes up.
- Appreciation of all kinds of diversity – When cognitive diversity is touted and appreciated, employees see that differences go beyond culture, race, gender, experience, etc. and can understand that these too must be valued.
- Speed to proficiency – With a cognitively diverse workforce, employees can more easily find those who think and behave in their preferred format and accentuate their strengths to become more proficient more quickly.
One more quote from Alison Paul, Vice Chairman and US Retail Leader at Deloitte (as quoted in the Diversity Executive article), I think sums up where organizations can see results from diversity in thinking styles:
“When diversity of thought is really valued, promoted, encouraged, talked about and shared, it enriches not only everyone’s experience and that person’s feeling of being part of something larger than themselves, but it also can give clues to what customers and consumers are looking for in society and help a business better fine-tune its services, products and total value proposition both as a place to work and as a set of products and services to consume.”
Diversity in thinking styles and diversity in behavioral preferences really can propel you to new heights. We’ve seen it in our work and it’s gaining traction throughout the world of organizational development. My charge to you is to make it happen in your organization by finding the right people who bring diverse ideas and perspectives to the table.