This week I’ve been thinking about diversity. Not a subject you’d probably associate with me as I tend to steer clear of political correctness and especially anybody who’s trying to tell me or anyone else how to live our lives… But cognitive diversity is something different. It’s the secret ingredient in growing great teams and strong businesses. Whether you’re just launching a new business, thinking about starting or in a growth phase, understanding how to use cognitive diversity to bring people together may be the difference between success and stagnation. Focusing on diversity in order to drive innovation will set your business apart from others.

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” Malcolm Forbes

How to grow a great team

We are all drawn to people who think like us. They make us feel smart and they reinforce our certainty that our way is best. They reflect back to us our view of the world. Because we tend to like people who think like we do, we’re much more likely to hire them into our businesses. Ending up in an echo chamber is a real risk, especially for fast-growing companies.
I have a client who’s the CEO of a fast-growing tech firm. His team is already at 40 plus and growing. He’s an engineer and naturally thinks engineers are the brightest, smartest people in the world. It’s obvious to him that an engineering approach is the BEST way. Everyone else lacks sufficient rigour in their approach to problem solving. He struggles to see value in anyone who doesn’t have an engineering background, and therefore wants every single member of his team to have an engineering background.

We’ve discussed cognitive diversity at length during our coaching sessions. I explained that if you put 10 people in a room and ask them each to come up with 10 innovative ideas, you might reasonably expect to have 100 great ideas to work with. But if our team of 10 all think in similar ways, you will NOT get 100 unique and innovative ideas. It’s only by assembling a team of people who think differently, approach problem solving differently and genuinely look at the world in diverse ways, that you have a hope of getting near 100 truly ground-breaking ideas.

When recruiting, we used to talk about a cultural fit but now it’s much more common to think about a values fit. I believe that looking for diversity, not just in the way people look or sound, but also in how they think, will be the next big competitive advantage that sets great companies apart from merely good ones.

Cognitive diversity is the inclusion of people who think and process information differently. Who have different styles of problem-solving and can offer unique perspectives because they think differently. Having these multiple perspectives in your teams and in your business, usually results in increased innovation and more creative approaches to problem solving. Research has shown that teams who reflect cognitive diversity solve complex problems faster than teams made of individuals who approach problem-solving in the same way. In new and uncertain situations, teams composed of cognitively diverse individuals use different modes of thinking to tackle the challenge they face. This results in accelerated learning and performance. Teams made up of people who address complex problems in the same way are usually hampered by a lack of versatility.

My coaching and people management training both look to leverage the power of cognitive diversity. I encourage my clients to value approaches that differ from their own. We look at how to actively seek out people who approach problem solving in different ways and therefore offer unique perspectives when it comes to innovation and growth. For each and every one of you who is focused on growing a business, cognitive diversity needs to be high on your priority list. My engineering client has agreed to change his recruitment approach and we’re working together on sourcing different types of backgrounds and approaches to fill several roles he’s been struggling with all year.

Increasing diversity in your business takes time and effort. Here are my Top Ten Tips:-

🌟 Honesty. It’s important to recognise your natural inclination to surround yourself with people who approach things in similar ways to you. We all have biases and being honest about yours is a great place to start.
🌟 Interactions. Creating cognitive diversity in your business starts with you. Take time to recognise and process your own reactions but don’t let them affect how you interact with others.
🌟 Recruitment. Be intentional about seeking out difference as you grow your team. Instead of looking at years of service, think about capabilities. Look outside your industry and be open-minded about who you consider hiring.
🌟 Conscious. Think about how you put teams together and make a conscious effort to bring different styles together. Seek out people who approach things differently than you do and make an effort to explore alternatives.
🌟 Team. Encourage your team (especially senior managers) to explore diversity and what it means for them. Encourage everyone in your business to be the best versions of themselves rather than following your lead.
🌟 Focus. Show your team that you’re serious about cognitive diversity by encouraging different perspectives and rewarding differences. Actively promote curiosity and different points of views and approaches.
🌟 Speak up. Encourage your team to speak up against ‘group think’ and do so yourself. You will not get it right from the start so it has to be okay to make mistakes. Discussions about what’s not working are hugely valuable.
🌟 Take risks. It’s absolutely imperative that you take risks in terms of hiring but also promotions and assigning responsibilities. When brain storming make sure you take a ‘no red lines’ approach to encourage divergent thinking.
🌟 Partnership. Strategic partnerships are a great way to leverage diversity. Who could you partner with who approaches business in completely different ways than you? Look for collaborations that will challenge you.
🌟 Create space. One of the biggest inhibitors to diversity is lack of time. Looking for new ways to collaborate and connect takes time and space. You may need to slow down to leverage the real benefits of diversity.

It’s completely unrealistic to expect yourself to know everything or be able to do everything. Please be kind to yourself and if you’d like to talk through the choices you’re facing or any blockers in your business, let me know.

Lisa Zevi – October 2021