The new kid on the diversity block: Thought Diversity


A number of weeks ago, I wrote about the concept of learning agility and cognitive flexibility and connected it to my notion of a “plasticine mindset.”

A related concept is thought diversity, which I liken to the newest kid on the diversity block, but which takes the much-used concept of diversity in radically different trajectories. For beyond the very salient diversities of social identities (gender, race, ethnicity, age, ability, sexuality, occupational, etc.) and the diversities of experience-based identities is thought diversity. This is nicely captured by this image:

 

This image illustrates the growing research in cognition and neuroscience and their explorations of our neural makeup and into how we think.

A range of organizations, including the UK’s NHS (National Health Service) from which this image is borrowed to Deloitte have been exploring thought diversity as part of a larger exploration into researching innovation and collaboration. Post et al (2009) explored a range of product development teams tasked with innovation and determined two sets of thinkers. One group, which they call sequential, were methodical, thought things out before trying them, using proven methods for problem solving. These were processual, analytical problem solvers and their approach offered incremental innovation; e.g., a new flavour of gum. A second group were more comfortable with searching for novel approaches, moving beyond existing boundaries and rules, and enjoyed the challenge of creating connections between various areas of investigation, at times between seemingly unrelated ideas. Connective thinking, Post et al (2009) argue, emerges from the thought diversity of thinkers as is more likely to result in radical innovation.

This has ramifications for startups, entrepreneurs, artists, sports teams, political parties, public/private/nonprofit sector organizations across industries and disciplines; indeed, any entity constellating human effort will be required to think of how assemblages of human talent can either merely continue existing practices and offer some incremental advances or collaborate to rethink, even disrupt existing ways of doing to offer new products, services and solutions.

The spectres of machine learning and the Internet of Things suggest the development of connective thinking and harnessing thought diversity is a 21st century imperative. As such, it goes hand in hand with learning agility as today’s necessary competencies.

References:

  • Diaz-Uda, A., Medina, C. & Schill, B. (2013). Diversity’s new frontier: Diversity of thought and the future of the workforce. Deloitte University Press.
  • NHS. Improving Quality Thought Diversity webinar 3 Dec 2014: http://www.slideshare.net/NHSIQ/thought-diversity-webinar
  • Post, C., De Lia, E.., DiTomaso, N., Tirpak, T. M., & Borwankar, R. (2009) Capitalizing on thought diversity for innovation. Research Technology Management (November-December): 14-25.

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