Here’s an interesting paradox: teams that include people with greater diversity of background (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, language, academic level, academic subjects…) are likely to have greater diversity of thinking. Greater diversity of thinking is likely to lead to better decision-making, because if the people making the decisions come at things from multiple perspectives they’ll be less likely to just act on convention.

However, diversity of thinking makes it harder for a team to collaborate because the norms of the group are harder to establish because the individual members have less in common with one another. So although the non-diverse teams might produce worse output from worse decisions, they’re more likely to chug along without conflict.

I picked the above up from the latest installment of the wonderful Reply All podcast. They were looking in particular at the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley firms (whose employees appear to be predominantly young, male, white and middle class).

This paradox is a really big issue when it comes to matters of improving performance of organizations. The short-term expedience of easier-to-manage teams, combined with the age-old issue of recruiting in one’s own image combine to more often than not create good team working with duff output.

In my own career, I know I have made conscious effort on occasion to bring people into teams who I knew would be difficult to manage and integrate because the skills that they required determined that they would be significantly different to me, and also to much of the rest of the team. It never got any easier. I constantly questioned such hiring decisions. As a manager I found that hard.

Yet diversity in the tech sector seems to be seen as an issue of physical attributes rather than emotional or philosophical ones. Whilst gender, ethnicity, sexuality and so on might make useful analogues for diversity of thinking, the real risk becomes that the prevailing culture is so strong that any differences in thought get filtered out as part of an assimilation to survive in the new surrounding.

2 thoughts on “Diversity of thought

  1. A little comfort is nice, too much is deadly. In the physical world we have examples of those that have traded “nasty, brutish, and short” for sated, sedentary, and short. It shouldn’t be too great a stretch to see that this applies to the intellectual as well – staying in our comfort zone makes us lazy and slow.

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