"When the best and the brightest come together, the possibilities are endless."
Like many different colors come together to make a beautiful rainbow, it is the variety of people and the diversity of thoughts that make an effective team. The cognitive diversity hypothesis suggests that multiple perspectives stemming from the differences between group or organizational members result in creative problem solving and innovation.
Diversity is mostly looked at from the perspective of gender, ethnicity, or age. But in recent times, experts and organizations have begun to look more closely at cognitive diversity, defined as differences in perspective or information processing styles. Cognitive diversity is about how individuals think about and engage with new, uncertain, and complex situations. In fact, one article by Forbes suggests that if an organization’s goal is to have people who behave and think in different ways, it should focus less on their gender, nationality, and ethnicity, and more on how they behave and think.
But how do organizations assess and analyze how they behave and think in different ways? How do they ensure that they have a cognitively diverse workforce?
Leverage data & insights to identify cognitive diversity
To begin with, understanding the unique traits of each employee, peer and leader is critical. Building more awareness is now possible thanks to the plethora of scientific tools and innovative data-driven technologies available in the market. For instance, Insights Discovery help employees and leaders better understand themselves and each other.
Insights Discovery model teaches that everyone is a mix of what they call the four color energies, but that one of these will be their natural home, whether that’s Fiery Red, Sunshine Yellow, Earth Green or Cool Blue energy. Let’s delve deep into these four types of energy:
People who lead with Fiery Red energy are task focused, direct and determined.
People with sunshine Yellow energy are sociable, chatty, open and extraverted.
People with earth green energy are focused on what’s best for the people in the team.
Cool Blue energy needs to be won over by credibility, authority, and proven validity behind the lessons (so it’s just as well that we’ve got that in spades).
The beauty of these diverse energies in the team and in the organization is that everyone brings their unique self to work and together they ensure that none of the challenges and opportunities are approached in an extreme fashion. But to be able to make the most of an unique set of people and make them work together towards a common vision, leaders have to ensure that they are well aware of these energies. Hence, the journey towards building a diverse workforce begins with awareness of self and of others.
As James Surowiecki said, “The fact that cognitive diversity matters does not mean that if you assemble a group of diverse but thoroughly uninformed people, their collective wisdom will be smarter than an expert's. But if you can assemble a diverse group of people who possess varying degrees of knowledge and insight, you're better off entrusting it with major decisions rather than leaving them in the hands of one or two people, no matter how smart those people are.”
Embed the element of cognitive diversity into every talent process
From hiring to performance conversation, an element of cognitive diversity has to be introduced in each step of the employee lifecycle. By using people analytics, employers can ensure that they have a cognitively diverse workforce and know the unique traits of their employees from the very beginning. And then as employees spend more time in the company tools like Insights Discovery solutions can be used to further understand and develop their unique traits. As they take on work assignments, they can be encouraged to become a more heterogeneous version of themselves and build on their strengths and weaknesses in areas like ambition, creativity, intelligence and resilience.
One of the major reasons cognitive diversity does not receive the attention it deserves is that other diversity parameters are obvious to the naked eye. Can anyone ever see perspectives and style of processing information? Masked vision is also another major reason. There is a saying, “We recruit our own image.” Tools like Insights Discovery can ensure that doesn’t happen.
Create a workplace culture that thrives on cognitive diversity
In the new reality of work, when the office is no longer a physical space but the people, projects and conversations, the entire definition of culture and how it is built is being redefined. As business leaders gear up for the big reset of work and culture, now is time to be mindful of cognitive diversity from the very beginning.
Leaders must inculcate a sense of appreciation of cognitive diversity in the organization. It is important that each employee understands, values and celebrates the differences. This will not only make them more accepting of each other’s views and perceptions but also give them a space to be their most unique selves. It is not that one unique trait shall be celebrated or the other should be criticized, it is the presence of all together under one roof (now an intangible roof) that should be acknowledged. Leaders have to help themselves and everyone understands that it is ok to be different but it is also important to understand when and where which unique trait could help or not.
Like a rope fashioned from hundreds of fragile threads, the strength of the collective grows by a magnitude until, woven together just right, it has the strength to bear the heaviest of loads.