Momentum for action on racial equity has continued to build around the world, and we like many others have spent the past few weeks in an ongoing discussion on what else we can do to help contribute to positive change. It remains remarkably difficult for organizations to have uncomfortable conversations about racial bias, so as a first step we’re spreading awareness of how cognitive diversity can be used as a powerful device to break down the walls in these conversations.
Silicon Valley’s “diversity problem” has been getting a lot of attention for years, with articles digging into the lack of inclusive culture among of the technology industry and the growing pressure for change in the industry. There are even dynamic charts that track the diversity of the workforce and leadership in tech companies so you can stay up-to-date on where they are and how they compare. It's not just the technology industry that could stand for an overhaul of DEI policies, though.
[This post is an email that we sent to our clients on June 4, 2020.]
We felt it was important to reach out to you right now, as you are probably feeling a range of emotions in response to the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other people of color. We are, too. This grief is becoming all too familiar.
Over the past few years, more and more corporate leaders and consultants have been talking about a “new” kind of workplace diversity: cognitive diversity, which can also be referred to as diversity of thought.
All the attention it’s getting is something of a double-edged sword, though. On the one hand, it’s great that so many people are beginning to see that cognitive diversity plays an important role in a business’s success.
But on the other, the term itself is getting thrown around so much—often in very general or superficial ways—that it risks becoming just another piece of meaningless jargon.
Cognitive diversity isn’t just new packaging on an old idea about the dangers of surrounding yourself with “yes men.” It’s also not just another way of saying that if you let conflicting ideas and perspectives rub up against each other for a long enough time, eventually something positive will come from it.
As the CEO of Herrmann, I’m proud that one of my first actions in taking on the role was to become a signatory of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™ pledge to take meaningful action towards creating more inclusive workplaces and to participate in the Day of Understanding.
We are thrilled to participate in the CEO Action Day of Understanding this year, during which organizations encourage their teams to have discussions to further understand and embrace their differences and work to educate their people to build more inclusive cultures.
Whenever a disruptive business story breaks—like Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods—the innovation mandates follow. The message: If you don’t start rethinking your game and, in some cases, even reinventing your mission, you could be the next cautionary tale, the “slow giant that failed to innovate.”
As companies focus more intently on innovation, whether it’s the big, transformational kind or smaller, incremental improvements and pivots, we’re also seeing a growing trend in recognizing the value of diversity in the innovation process. McKesson, for example, proclaimed in their 2016 Diversity & Inclusion Report, “We believe a diverse workforce is a fundamental building block for creativity and innovation.” And Apple CEO Tim Cook has said, “I think the most diverse group will produce the best product, I firmly believe that.”
But clearly it’s not as simple as all that. If it was, we’d be seeing a lot more innovative output.
Everybody’s talking about creativity in business. From global leadership studies to the popular press to CEO speeches, the value of creativity and innovation continues to get plenty of attention on the management agenda.
And for good reason. The world is changing spectacularly fast. Volatility and uncertainty aren’t going anywhere. Each day can feel like you’re venturing into uncharted territory, a place where there are no existing playbooks and no tried-and-true-formulas to go by. To stay ahead and stay relevant, leaders have to stay on their toes. They need creativity, novel thinking and inventive ideas.
So they set “creativity missions.” They talk about how they want people to be more innovative. They share stories and inspiring TED Talks about the secrets of creative startup cultures.
But all this talk and attention aren’t enough. If it were, fewer companies would be struggling.
So what’s getting in the way?
Lately, we’ve been talking about something that Ann Herrmann-Nehdi calls “rut thinking.” It’s just what it sounds like. It’s about getting stuck in a single-minded way of approaching a problem or tackling your work or even thinking about the future. It may feel like a shortcut because you’re “in the groove,” but from that narrow vantage point, it’s hard to get a clear view of what’s really going on all around you. And that makes it even harder to find a potentially better way forward.
While there’s something to be said for specialization and a laser-sharp focus, like any good thing, too much of it can be a problem.
“If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself.”
This quote from Dee Hock, the founder and former CEO of Visa International, is a constant reminder to me that the ability to influence others hinges on what you see when you look at yourself—specifically, at the way you think.
There’s a lot of mystique around what makes leaders tick, but one thing is clear: truly effective leaders are ambidextrous in their thinking. In the early stages of solving problems or making decisions, they consider all of the available options. For them, it's not an “either option A or option B” world. It's “option A and option B.”
In other words, in Whole Brain® Thinking terms, most CEOs are multi-dominant in their thinking preferences. They have a natural mental agility that allows them to move through several different modes of thinking. During a single conversation, they might analyze the causes of a problem (A-quadrant thinking) and offer a creative solution (D quadrant) that enhances the customer experience (C quadrant). In addition, they might translate that solution into a project plan with a detailed list of next steps (B quadrant).