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Essay: Encouraging diversity of thought in an organisation

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Executive Summary
Diversity in the recent past has primarily focused on fairness for populations that have been legally protected. Now however organizations have the opportunity to harness a better, more powerful and a more refined approach to a different kind of diversity which is the ‘diversity of thought’. With recent advances in neurological research it is possible for many organizations to operationalize diversity of thought and alter their way of defining human asset by making clear how an individual’s thought process works and making vivid his capability of solving problems. The research paper works to find out how diversity of thought can bring an organization numerous benefits:
1. By helping protect against groupthink and overconfidence of experts. Diversity of thought has the capability to help better decision making and successful completion of task as it ensures cautious and creative processing of information as opposed to that which occurs in similar or homogenous groups.
2. Works on increasing the scale of new insights. By bringing together diverse human thoughts challenging problems can be well catered to. It also helps in generating a great innovative idea.
3. It helps organizations identify the right employees who can very well tackle their most pressing problems. With the advancement in neurological science it is possible to match people to the most suited job as far astheir thinking and job requirements are concerned.
It has been discovered that diversity of thought may be increased in the workforce via the following efforts:
1. Hire differently. The interview process and job description should be such that it helps select a cognitively diverse workforce. Organizations should also help to recruit best talent..
2. Manage differently. Task focused conflicts should be encouraged as it helps teams to better and newer levels of creativity and output. Such an environment should be encouraged whereby everyone feels comfortable in sharing views and voicing their opinions.
3. Promote differently. In order for organizations to retain and advance cognitively diverse talent is to enact sponsorship programs that are directed at individuals who represent varying thinking styles.
Introduction
A more refined approach to diversity
To date diversity simply emphasized on fairness for those underrepresented in workforce. Today however, it is realized that living through the demographic transformation of US labor market, ethnic diversity is the permanent component of the future work place. This reality provides an opportunity to reexamine workplace diversity and ponder over what diversity actually means in the 21st century.
It is not essential that growing natural diversity would mean that all under represented would equalize at all levels of an organization. Thus it is essential that diversity programs focus on promoting women participation and participation of ethnic minorities’ at executive levels in an organization. Smart organizations will realize the need to introduce more nuanced and refined approaches to operate the full range of human diversity. This could begin by harnessing: DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT.
Diversity of thought refers to a concept that all of us know intuitively and experience throughout our lives. Each human being has a unique blend of identities, cultures, and experiences that inform how he or she thinks, interprets, negotiates, and accomplishes a task. Diversity of thought goes beyond the affirmation of equality which was simply recognizing differences and responding to them. Instead, the focus is on realizing the full potential of people, and in turn the organization, by acknowledging and appreciating the potential promise of each person’s unique perspective and different way of thinking. The implication of this new frontier in diversity is that leaders and organizations must let go of the idea that there is ‘one right way’ and instead focus on creating a learning culture where people feel accepted, are comfortable contributing ideas, and actively seek to learn from each other.
In the near future, managers who adept at leading a diverse work team will be sensitive not only to factors of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and ability, but also to the new research and enabling technologies that will help organizations understand the thinking process of people. Managers will also need to understand how to use technologies in order to help employees evaluate their unique thinking strengths and identify their optimum contributions to the mission. Leaders will also need to learn how to adjust their management styles and tactics to better encourage the connections between individuals and their ideas to improve problem solving, learning, cooperation, and innovation in their organizations. Leaders and managers will thus face the need to take increasing ownership of creating an inclusive culture.
Hiring practices will also need to evolve so to ensure organizations have the required diversity of thought in their workforce. Hiring for a diversity of backgrounds may not necessarily yield different perspectives, as physical diversity is not a sufficient proximate for diversity of thought. And once an individual is hired, organizations will then need to adjust their approaches to managing and advancing the individual’s career.
This report unfolds the benefits diversity of thought can bring to an organization, and also shows examples of how organizations can apply diversity of thought to transform the way they recruit and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce.
Benefits of diversity of thought to organizations
Over the years neurologists and cognitive scientists have made progress into comprehending the functioning of the mind. The study reveals that individuals have differing cognitive styles and tests also reveal that individuals have particular thinking strengths as some are inclined to do better at math some at patterns and others at creativity and so on.
Experts have also agreed to the fact that this research has actually touched upon that aspect of diversity which was untouched. Thought diversity offers a new and different layer of insight that can be used to maximize the collective potential of all employees. In order for leaders to introduce a spark of innovation and creativity in the work place thought diversity can play an integral role in doing so. Even if a slight aspect of an individual’s refined thinking is appropriately harnessed it can bring great value to the organization.
This blend of science, technology and management theory relating to human thought has opened the gates of opportunity for the government agencies and organizations that are eager to incorporate diversity of thought as their organizational priority. Diversity of thought brings about certain benefits and a competitive edge for such organizations, which are as follows:
1. Diverse thinkers help guard against groupthink and expert overconfidence
It has been proved through research that diversity of thought helps in better decision making as it triggers greater creative information processing which is usually missing in homogenous groups. It is seen that in similar groups there is greater confidence in performance however it is proven that diverse groups end up being more successful in task completion. Diverse team members do not just come up with viewpoints but also ensure cautious information processing which is rarely present in homogenous groups.
A major research in this area is being conducted by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). IARPA’s Aggregative Contingent Estimation (ACE) program aims ‘to dramatically enhance the accuracy, precision, and timeliness of forecasts for a broad range of event types, through the development of advanced techniques that elicit, weight, and combine the judgments of many intelligence analysts.’
Philip Tetlock, a professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, leads an ACE program research team. Tetlock, whose book Expert Political Judgment carefully discovered the often seen overconfidence of substantive experts, has put together a group of laypeople with diverse backgrounds to predict the future likelihood of certain events.. Both the studies in ACE and in Tetlock’s original research illustrate the potential that organizations have to ‘fully understand the causes of successful collective performance and to improve their outcomes by assembling teams of more diverse thinkers to complement their more traditional experts.’
Robert Epstein, in Psychology Today, further notes that organizations that employ thought diversity enhances the opportunity for innovation and mitigate the risk of groupthink. In absence of thought diversity, employees generally are unwilling to share their ideas and solutions. To that end, Willfully Blind author and CEO Margaret Heffernan writes: ‘[I]n this context, diversity isn’t a form of political correctness, but an insurance policy against internally generated blindness that leaves institutions exposed and out of touch.’
2. Diverse thinkers help increase the scale of new insights
Time is of extreme importance and therefore organizations tend to rely on expert opinions as for them subject matter knowledge and skills can efficiently give a quality solution to issues faced by the organization. However, advancements in technology are making expert opinions less useful. It is rather seen that combining multiple tasks and ideas together in a new way can help generate a great idea.
Crowd sourcing and gamification techniques are said to be the unique ways to channel the diversity of human thinking through their use of diverse online crowds to solve challenging issues.
3. Diverse thinkers help organizations identify individuals who can best tackle their most pressing problems
Those organizations that can operationalize faster ideation tend to put together tasks and activities for individuals on the basis of the way they think alike. Advances in neuroscience has proved that matching people to specific jobs on the basis of cognitive analysis is possible.
Emotiv Lifesciences, a neurobiology company, has created a brainwave reading rig designed to measure how well a person can concentrate on a given activity. Using sensors similar to an EEG machine, Emotiv has found a way to connect cognitive mental activity and the control of a device like a computer, offering real-time analysis of cognitive activity. These and other techniques being developed reveal not just the symphony of neural activity, but the notes behind it.
Today, matching cognitive talents to certain specific demands of a job or mission is largely done via trial and error. Until recently, the nearest organizations could get to comprehend the hardwiring of people’s thoughts, and predict their success in any given job, was to simply give them a personality test. Such as the Myers-Briggs, Enneagrams, and others, these introduced the concept that people may react differently in a given work environment. As new technologies unveil individual strengths more quickly and more precisely, organizations can well match people with the tasks they perform well.
Applying and accepting these new technologies is quite challenging, however, if they are correctly incorporated into work processes they can aid in identifying individuals who can successfully tackle an organizations most pressing problems. Not only will these capabilities enable organizations to read minds but wil also help them understand how a mind is likelyto react and how can it be best matched with others to achieve mission success. This will turn out to be a great competitive advantage for the organizations that apply this knowledge well.
What you can do today to increase diversity of thought
The interrelatedness of neuroscience, psychology, and technology is creating numerous new opportunities for organizations to comprehend human thinking and its translation into practice. Along with this agencies can better align various blends of employees to challenges and set loose the diversity of thought to work its way and help achieve success.
Strategies that can well help to foster diversity of thought are as follows:
1. Hire differently
Find strategic skill gaps
The benefits of diversity of thought can well be realized via the hiring practices.
In The Difference, Scott Page, an economist at the University of Michigan, illustrates a unique way to hire people with an eye toward maximizing the diversity of thought within an organization. In this study, three candidates were interviewed for two vacant positions on a research team. All candidates were asked the same 10 questions. Jeff correctly answered 7 of 10, Rose 6 of 10, and Spencer 5 of 10
Many organizations would hire Jeff and Rose for two reasons.
1. These two candidates managed to achieve the highest cumulative score.
2. HR managers tend to hire candidates like Jeff and Rose because they ‘spend a lot of time and money making sure that their people all think the same.
However, Page reveals an important nuance. He says that if a recruiter spends the time to examine what questions each candidate answered correctly, he or she will notice that the lowest overall scorer (Spencer) correctly answered every question that the highest scorer (Jeff) incorrectly answered. As such, Spencer presumably brings a different way of thinking to the organization.
Hiring for cognitive diversity
In search of diversity of thought, managers and HR representatives tend to select those people who have varying thinking capabilities and yet align with the mission and bottom line. A continually evolving and a cognitively diverse workforce can well be attained if recruiters ensure that their practices are such that includes a job description highlighting the necessary technical competencies required for the job and also the interview process should contain competent questions.
This idea of selecting for cognitive diversity is taken a little further by a German software firm which actively recruits for certain cognitive abilities which were traditionally regarded as disability.
SAP AG recently announced its plans to recruit people with autism to make use of this population’s ability to process information. People who are diagnosed with autism have problems communicating and suffer from emotional detachment, yet those with mild autism diagnoses often can perform complex tasks that require high levels of concentration and they tend to perform much better than the average population. Beyond their advanced mathematical skills, autistic people often exhibit ability to find patterns and make connections and linkages. SAP AG’s willingness to seek out unique cognitive skill sets where other organizations may see prohibitive deficits injects new complexity into their talent management, but can be worth the effort. SAP AG noted that ‘SAP sees a potential competitive advantage to leveraging the unique talents of people with autism, while also helping them to secure meaningful employment.’
Get away from the status quo and hire with debate in mind
One of the most important projects in US history benefited from a similar unorthodox approach to assembling a team. During World War II, the Manhattan Project was led by Colonel Dick Groves (US Army) and physicist Dr. Robert Oppenheimer. It was the very first military operation and it came to represent the start of the military industrial complex which was the hybrid of public, private, and academic brain power. Groves and Oppenheimer brought together several thousand physicists and engineers, 20 of whom were Nobel laureates. Oppenheimer, in particular, summoned scientists with contrasting theoretical points of view, knowing that if these men could collectively work through their differences, they would be able to accomplish one of the greatest scientific feats of the 20th century. Had they not hired with this in mind, the opportunity to generate and take advantage of innovative ideas may have been squandered. Although Groves and Oppenheimer did not open the floodgates to all types of diversity (women, for example, were not included), they did hire widely within the field of science and the military to combine two distinct worlds in a moment of crisis, creating a weapon of intense power, but setting the precedent for how diverse talents can well achieve difficult tasks in a short period of time.
A key lesson from history was that organizations must focus on recruiting top talent even if it’s at a cost of altering the already existing opinionated employees. Oppenheimer intentionally gathered great minds in an effort to harness their conflicts. He was aware that the series of solutions they worked toward would never have sprung forth from a chorus of agreement, no matter how collectively brilliant. Oppenheimer’s true genius was in his ability to gather and manage talent. These principles could work for many more organizations whose cognitively diverse workforces need to engage constructively to test their differences of opinion.
2. Manage differently
Facilitate diversity tension
One of Oppenheimer’s management strengths with the Manhattan Project can be well put as being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Oppenheimer created an environment where all the scientists could come together and debate their different ideas during meetings that were held every week; even the ethical implications of the Manhattan Project were a topic of discussion. It was not easy to lead these differing points of view, as they would often result in diversity tension.
One of the challenges associated with diversity is the resulting complexity. The success of organizations would be marked by overcoming challenges of misunderstandings and conflicts which generally happen as a result of mismanagement of diversity.
When confronted with diversity tension even the most cautioned manager may end up giving subconscious signals of discomfort. In a recent study of city government officials by the research team of Denmark identified the possible reasons of why organizations tend to suffer high levels of negativity. They observed the local government officials, through video recordings of typical actions and interactions during the workday. Through the tapes it was observed, that whenever a government executive was challenged or asked a tough question by his/her employees, he/she would make a slight variation in their head movement. Working with psychologists, the researchers determined that this slight head nod was the same tic observed in nature when an individual comes into contact with a wild animal, namely a tiger.
It is simply easier for them to agree than to confront. Part of being comfortable with conflict is abandoning the idea that consensus is an end in and of itself. In a well-run diverse team, substantive disagreements do not need to become personal as ideas either have merit and points of connection or they do not. Diversity of thought challenges managers to rethink conflict itself, shifting their perspective away from mitigating conflict’s negative effects and toward designing conflict that can push their teams to new levels of creativity and productivity. Leaders and managers who create the necessary space for disagreements will find richer solutions.
IDEO, an industrial design firm, manages this tension by purposely hiring people from diverse backgrounds. They hire to inject varying perspectives and then foster a collaborative and participative culture where people have to advocate for their ideas. IDEO’s approach is born out of careful hiring practices and ability to facilitate controlled conflict which was the the subject of IDEO general manager Tom Kelly’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation. Since these non-traditional teams are formed with experiential conflict in mind, individuals are required to be advocates for their ideas themselves and respect the ideas of those around them. Furthermore, IDEO has a resourcing approach that gets people with great facilitation skills that enables them to drive the design process and manage the project to get the most value of the unique experts. Kelly insists that since there is no formula for who should contribute when, the key is for everyone to be encouraged to bring multiple ideas to a problem set. They should not have competing ideologies but should rather emphasize on unique subject-matter expertise that, when brought together, sparks innovation.
Give permission
Government agencies that aim for a diverse workforce should adopt certain practices that make employees believe that they have the permission to bring their complete self to the work place. In that case, organizations that strive for inclusion tend to appreciate their employees’ differences and foster a comfortable environment where sharing views and their authentic selves is easily possible. Employees should have the comfort of disagreeing and holding opinions that differ from those of management. One of the difficult things for managers to do is to let employees disagree with them and to allow them to explore their ideas (even if that exploration leads to failure).
In an interview, a manager of an intelligence agency described how she frequently has to write long analysis by putting together various pieces of literature into a document, which contains content of extreme strategic importance. One way for her to ensure that her team members contribute honestly and provide required insight is to give them the permission to give constructive feedback even if it is harsh. Instead of asking reviewers, if what she said makes sense she rather questions what’s wrong in her logic or where is she lacking? Such questions provoke more opposing responses that ultimately helps in gaining a better result.
Organizations should therefore need to make it a priority to equip their managers with new techniques in order to effectively manage and embrace diversity of thought.
3. Advance differently
Drive career sponsorship
When cognitively diverse individuals are hired in a work place, the managers aim to retain their talent and further work on advancing and improving it. This can be done via sponsorship programs that are directed towards individuals who represent varying thinking styles. By aligning sponsors they can aid cognitively diverse thinkers in finding the most appropriate way of applying their unique style of thinking and helping them in advancing their new career track.
A sponsor who is trained would also be well able to translate and promote the otherwise hidden attributes of individuals that are new to an organization. For example, military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have skills, certifications, and cognitive styles that organizations can use, as well as the ability to think quickly, manage well under pressure, and improvise. And yet their careers can be very uncertain when they are asked to adjust to a culture that differs from the military tribe they are used to. So sponsors that can facilitate these types of transitions are essential for an organization’s ability to incorporate cognitive diversity.
Individuals possessing diverse thinking styles can also act as a mentor to other people within their organizations. For instance, in today’s digital age, many Millennials are reverse mentoring more senior colleagues in social media and networks. Cisco has implemented a reverse mentorship program which is designed to comprehend where the mentor can provide the executive with a perspective on ways in which comments and decisions could be interpreted by diverse employees as well as valuable feedback on how well she/he encourages inclusion and diversity in his/her own team and also in his/her own business practices. Reverse mentorship programs teach employees that their varying ideas are valued and, in fact, need to be incorporated more often in the more senior levels of the organization. In reverse mentorship the confidence that individuals helps them achieve more in their official duties as well.
Shift to team-based evaluation
Late Peter Drucker management consultant had very rightly said that you can only manage what you can measure.
The US Office of Personnel Management has provided team evaluation guidance that highlights that individual performance can be linked to a team’s cooperative behavior. By focusing on the team’s outputs, public sector organizations can continue to drive toward results while holding the collective accountable to attributes such as motivation, intellectual breadth, emotional intelligence, and risk tolerance. Critically, these elements are aligned with the larger goals and values of the organization and can help in creating an environment where people bring their authentic selves. Any evaluation framework should be such that reflect the complexities that make up the authentic self, and by pivoting evaluations toward the team, the appraisal becomes about shared performance and how each individual can enable the larger group to drive toward excellence. By moving to a team evaluation framework, organizations can create and foster a culture of inclusion that not only empowers its people, but also spurs collaboration, and inspires more innovation.
Harnessing diversity of thought
Throughout the course of history, many great ideas would not have emerged without the right combination of technology, necessity, and opportunity. Diversity of thought is not a new or radical idea, but instead it is the inevitable result of increased pluralism and connectivity in the 21st century. It is possible for organizations to maximize the initially unimaginable opportunities found in connection with cultures, values and perspectives.
MIT research scientist Andrew McAfee writes, ‘Expertise’for problem solving, innovation, etc.’is emergent. It’s out there in large quantities, and in hard-to-predict places. A problem-solving approach that lets pockets of enthusiasm and expertise manifest themselves and find each other can yield surprisingly large rewards, even in the unlikeliest places.’ Diversity policies that are designed to hire, facilitate, and encourage diversity of thought can help organizations find that expertise.
Everything does not depend on management. As facilities become available to explore, it provides individuals the opportunity to explore their own personal cognitive make up. Job seekers also are then able to judge potential employers who best fit the cognitive requirements for the job so to hire the best available applicants. Employees on the other hand can also develop the self-awareness so that they can easily comprehend their own unique ability to contribute to an organization’s mission and to maximize their own talents and passions.
Conclusion
It can be concluded that diversity of thought is that aspect of diversity which has not been given sufficient importance and is that component which has been untouched by various organizations. However, it is seen that it is an important aspect which should be incorporated by organizations in their hiring processes as it would help them in various unimaginable ways.
Diversity of thought when incorporated in organizations will not only bring novel insights but it also keeps the market in motion by bringing in new ideas, models and approaches. A diverse group does face a lot of conflict and discomfort but the end result is generally more innovative. By aligning diversity of thought with the company’s business strategy and surrounding yourself with people who think differently is challenging but also ensures success in future.

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