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.
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.
Our bet for the biggest idea in management for 2020? Cognitive diversity.
Cognitive diversity is broad concept, but we define it as the differences in the thinking (i.e., cognition, perspective or information processing styles) that people use to process the world around them, collaborate, solve problems, and make decisions.
Understanding these differences in thinking, and how to harness them, enables teams to tackle problems in new ways and increase their productivity. For organizations, building a culture of inclusion around these varied perspectives strengthens that culture, builds agility in change, and ultimately drives better business results.
See if you can imagine this scenario: You're in the middle of a heated discussion with someone about a big political, religious or personal topic. The conversation is getting tense, on the verge of an argument. Tempers are rising. Voices are getting louder—or the type has moved to ALL CAPS. You’re feeling angry, maybe even a little afraid. On the one hand, you really want to win this debate. On the other, you just want to run away.
We live in a pretty charged atmosphere these days, so you probably didn’t have to do too much imagining to conjure up that image in your mind. And sure, we know that a diversity of thought and perspectives can be valuable, but knowing that doesn’t make these moments any easier to deal with.
In fact, there’s a lot going on in your head in these kinds of situations. Your bloodstream is flooded with cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones that fuel the “fight or flight” response. Your neocortex, the part of your brain that controls rational thought, is on a temporary time out. You're triggered—not really thinking, just reacting.
Would it surprise you to learn that the more independence and self-determination someone has over their work, the more satisfied they are with their job?
Probably not. After all, it seems pretty obvious that the more say you have in terms of how you get your job done, the happier you’ll be in it. And the happier and more engaged you are in the work, the more productive you’re likely to be.
A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham Business School confirms the connection between work autonomy and job satisfaction. As one of the researchers, Dr. Daniel Wheatley, puts it, "Greater levels of control over work tasks and schedule have the potential to generate significant benefits for the employee, which was found to be evident in the levels of reported well-being."
But most roles aren’t designed to give people that kind of autonomy. In general, jobs are structured around specific tasks, and accountability is assigned so that the person’s performance can be measured and evaluated. This makes sense as far as it goes, particularly in jobs where collaborative, creative effort isn’t a priority (increasingly rare as that is), but even in narrow functional roles, one size doesn’t fit all. Sure, you can go with a “force fit” approach that says, “it’s this way or no way.” But you might just lose some talented, hard-working people in the process.
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).
In just over 40 days, the Olympic cauldron will be lit, signaling the beginning of the Rio 2016 Games. And just like in years past, the torch carrying that flame will have made quite a journey to get there.
Four years ago, the torch travelled 8,000-plus miles across 1,000 towns over the course of 70 days to arrive in London to kick off the London 2012 Games. And as a Worldwide Partner of the London Games, Coca-Cola Great Britain was there every step of the way, hosting 61 free evening events up and down the country, four city celebrations, a Torch Relay finale bash with an audience of 80,000, and a wide range of sponsorship activities to bring the magic of London 2012 to every corner of the UK.
Talk about an Olympic feat.