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JEFFREY TOBIN: Know more diversity

on September 29, 2013 1:49 AM

What’s the first thing you think of at the mention of the term “diversity?”

Do you immediately think of skin color? Gender? Sexual preference? How about human resources issues? Litigation? Discrimination?

Perhaps, like me, you think of all of these. (Unfortunately, I also use the term “diversity” to describe the weeds in my front lawn. But maybe that’s just me.)

What if there was a kind of diversity that had nothing to do with any of the above, but everything to do with knocking off your competitors?

There is one. But it’s invisible.

When we think of diversity in the workplace, our minds tend to swing into the “identity diversity” mode of race, color and gender. Are there benefits to this kind of diversity? Of course. But the most powerful form of diversity in the workplace is what some call “cognitive diversity.” And it’s hard to discriminate against it because it can’t be seen.

It’s as valuable as it is invisible. That’s why you need to pay attention.

Scott E. Page, author of the book “The Difference,” spells it out for us: Organizations that embrace cognitive diversity are some of the most progressive on the planet. They are more effective. They are better at problem-solving. They make more accurate predictions than other organizations. Sound interesting? It should.

Cognitive diversity is about thinking — not looking — differently. The most powerful agents of change are not intellectually homogenous groups with similar backgrounds. Not at all. The best teams in the world are those which appreciate — and recruit — the cognitive diversity of employees who bring with them the perspectives of engineers, gardeners, philosophers, teachers, religious leaders and the like. Their perspectives form a “mental tool shed” that razes problems and raises solutions.

You engage a new level of riches with people who see the world differently. They observe problems from unique perspectives. They develop creative solutions that might never be discovered by less diverse teams. They learn to respect the unique gifts of each other and they grow closer together.

Organizations that develop cognitive diversity don’t see only the visible spectrum of race or gender. They also benefit from the invisible results of significant growth through increased effectiveness, creativity and problem-solving. Can “identity diversity” benefit an organization? Well, yes, it can. But — as always — what’s beneath the skin is where one finds the treasures.

Homogeneity is out. Cognitive diversity is in.

You can build your own cognitively diverse organization: Actively recruit people of varying worldviews, experiences and education. Look beyond hiring for the purpose of fitting a job description. Attract thinkers who see things differently.

If they also happen to be of different races and genders, all the better.

To get started, you must begin to think of diversity differently: You see, cognitive diversity is as blind as a bat … and as wise as the ages.

Perhaps it’s time for all of us to wise up a bit.

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