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There are two major components that underpin diversity of thought for decision-making groups:
1. Group composition: The inherent potential of individual group members to think differently from each other.
2. Group culture: The attitudes, practices and group dynamics that influence individual group members openness to publicly share their thoughts and for group members to actively attend (listen) to the perspectives of others.
The impact of group composition is always mediated by the effect of group culture.
Diverse thinking groups can avoid the unchallenged decision-making characteristic of "groupthink" by making decisions based on facts instead of influence, authority or group allegiance.
Improving representative or demographic diversity in gender, ethnicity or age is important for both social justice and access to deeper talent pools.
It will also increase a decision-making group’s capability for diverse thinking around the represented characteristic/s but it will not necessarily increase diversity of thought more broadly. Experiences, perspectives and thought preferences may actually be similar across the group. For example: Adding a male accountant with a similar background to a group of female accountants may not materially increase diverse thinking, except in gender experience.
Organizations regularly benefit from having board members, executives or other team members with different vocational experience, functional skills or network connections. Specific diversity that can bring expertise that is a good fit with particular complicated problems where specific expertise is essential – a “horses for courses” approach.
Organizations readily manage the diverse thinking associated with specific diversity of thought by mapping their strategic requirements to a skills matrix to ensure they currently have or can recruit people with the desired attributes.
In contrast, wide-ranging diversity of thought leverages the cognitive diversity of the “wisdom of crowds” to address complex problems - those where there may be no clear ‘best’ solution.
Groups with wide-ranging diversity of thought draw on different experiences, perspectives and cognitive preferences to avoid unchallenged assumptions ('group-think'). They can also demonstrate increased creativity and innovation by conceiving alternative approaches to both opportunities and challenges.
The benefits of this broader type of diverse thinking are often cumulative, although realizing them requires a culture where dissent is welcomed to ensure that decisions are sufficiently challenged, and every group member is able to fully contribute to decision-making.
Surowiecki, J. (2004). The wisdom of crowds. London, UK: Doubleday.
Page, S. E. (2007). Making the difference: applying a logic to diversity. Academy of Management Perspectives, 21 (4), 6 – 20.
Professor Scott E. Page, an American social scientist and his colleagues, have used computational experiments to study the decision-making performance with complex decisions.
He found that random ("diverse thinking”) groups of problem solvers can routinely outperform groups of experts. This happens because experts tend to have a consensus approach to problem solving, whereas a group with diversity of thought are likely to use a much broader range of tactics. They can conceptualize problems in new ways and increase the potential solutions available to them. Experts can still play a role in addressing complex problems. However, it is better to have a diverse group of them.
Reference: Hong, L. & Page, SE. (2004). Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high ability problem solvers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 101, 16385 – 16389.
The term Groupthink was coined by Irving Janis (1918 - 1990). If a group becomes overly cohesive they may minimize conflict and rush to consensus instead of properly considering alternative options. Warning signs for the presence of groupthink include:
Diverse thinking groups have difference in their mindsets and worldviews. They can avoid the unchallenged decision-making characteristic of groupthink by making decisions based on facts instead of influence, authority or group allegiance.
The DOT Scorecard quantifies potential for diverse thinking by measuring pertinent characteristics within three categories: experiences, perspectives and thought preferences.
The DOT Scorecard has been designed and validated with governance boards and senior leadership teams but can be applied to any decision-making group with 5 to 25 members.
Diversity (noun) The condition of having or being composed of differing elements;
Diversity is far more (diverse!) than more externally observable such as gender, age, ethnicity and even sexual orientation or disability/ability. There are numerous other characteristics that could be considered - such as different ways of addressing problems (cognitive diversity), differences in experiences, skills or beliefs.
An individual is not inherently diverse or non-diverse, instead the presence or degree of diversity is related to who an individual is compared to.