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 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.
The Diversity of Thought Scorecard is a fit-for-purpose tool for measuring a group’s capability for wide-ranging thought diversity.
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.