Monday, January 16, 2017

Diversity makes us smarter

This summer I became Irish.  I did this as a response to the Brexit vote in the UK because I wanted to "stay European".  I was really disappointed that all the scare-mongering that went on prior to the election focused on erroneous perceptions, such as migrants taking people's jobs, and the idea that everyone coming to live in the UK should "blend in" in some way, by espousing the notion of becoming British.  Many people were duped in believing that migration is something we should be anxious about because it can lead to conflict. Now at this point I have to mention that I grew up in East London amid quite a bit of diversity.  My school friends were Indian, Irish, Italian and Polish. Some came from even further afield such as Nigeria, Hong Kong and Bermuda and I have to say I loved all the diversity.

Today I was reading a Scientific American article from around 2 years ago.  It was actually shared by a Dutch friend of mine that I met while working in Thailand.  The article was entitled How Diversity Makes Us Smarter and was basically about how being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.  Basically the article pulled on research from a variety of countries to show that:
  • people with diverse expertise do better than a homogeneous group at solving complex problems - being exposed to diversity changes the way you think.
  • interacting with people from different backgrounds leads to new information, opinions and perspectives, and forces people to prepare better, anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.
  • diversity enhances creativity as it encourages the search for novel information and perspectives leading to better decision making and problem solving, and higher-quality scientific research.  
  • innovative companies perform better when women are part of the top leadership and when there is greater racial diversity - interestingly this is because when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.
  • when members of a group notice they are different from one another, they change their expectations and anticipate that they will need to work harder both cognitively and socially. This hard work leads to better outcomes.
The bottom line is this:  we need diversity—in teams, organizations and society as a whole—if we are to change, grow and innovate.

Photo Credit: Sanj@y Flickr via Compfight cc

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