We can’t forget about cognitive diversity

We know that diversity is advantageous. 

Companies in the top quartile of ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36 percent in profitability. Organizations that are more gender and racially diverse outperform their peers in innovation, effectiveness, and see improved financial performance. And along the same lines, companies with an inclusive culture are 3x as likely to be high performing and 8x more likely to achieve better business outcomes.

In discussions of diversity, some of the typical diversity types are race, ethnicity, gender, ability, and sexual orientation. But diversity comes in many forms, including diversity of thought. Although invisible, differences in perspectives and cognitive performance are incredibly impactful and in a group setting, drive better problem-solving and risk assessment.

Cognitive diversity shows up in perspectives and problem-solving

Cognitive diversity can be broken down best into: perspective and the variability in which people solve problems. 

Perspectives are how people define and see a problem. With just one perspective, the error rate to solve a problem is about 30%. Multiple perspectives reduce error rates significantly. And, since people tend to prefer to work with people who think like them, it’s easy to see how this issue arises. 

Beyond perspective, it’s critical for teams to have individuals who approach complex problems in different ways, which is done by choosing from six mental frameworks. It’s rare that anyone uses all six frameworks, and most individuals are good at one or two.

The six mental frameworks used to solve problems:

  • Outcomes: Why are we doing this?
  • Options: What are the alternatives?
  • Process: What steps do we need to implement this?
  • People: Who are the people that need our solution? 
  • Evidence: What are the facts and data we are using? 
  • Risk: What problems do we foresee and what might go wrong?

Like demographic diversity, cognitive diversity is linked to high performance. Cognitive diversity enhances innovation by about 20%, and it also drives the ability to identify risks, reducing risks by up to 30%. 

Attention on the diversity of thinking should not take away from other areas which demand DE&I focus like gender and race. All forms of diversity work together to form stronger outcomes, but two subsets specifically are most impactful. Racial diversity “is a curiosity trigger that causes us to listen harder to someone else’s view,” and with a gender balance of 40-60%, “people feel more comfortable speaking up… so any latent diversity of thinking is now explicit.” Thinking, as another diversity category, just needs to be included in the conversation. 

When allowed to flourish, the power of cognitive diversity on group dynamics stimulates curiosity, drives conversational turn-taking, and increases collaboration. And combined with demographic diversity, this pair is the foundation for high-performing teams.

Written by Guild Education

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