What is the best way to ensure your workplace has the capacity for your teams to thrive? How do you give everyone a shot at doing their best work?
The solution is with Whole Brain® Diversity & Inclusion, also known as cognitive diversity and diversity of thought.
With the growing recognition that diversity plays a pivotal role in workplace efficiency and outcomes, leaders within organizations are now further recognizing that cognitive diversity, or diversity of thought, is among the most important kinds.
This is more than just a loose definition – diversity of thought can be understood tangibly and quantifiably. In fact, to see its benefits, you have to be upfront, intentional, and crystal clear on what it means. This will allow your workplace to harness the framework of cognitive diversity for its full benefits.
What is Cognitive Diversity?
Put simply, diversity of thought gives a name to the variety of different ways we all think. While background, life experience, and other factors are certainly relevant, this is a deeper sort of diversity.
At its core, cognitive diversity is about the different ways in which we process information, think about the world, and fundamentally understand our surroundings. Specifically, how we think impacts how we build relationships, communicate, learn, solve problems and make buying decisions.
Research from Deloitte shows that by tapping into this kind of diversity, creativity and innovation in an environment can grow by up to 20%.
It has also been found in a 6-year study of group efficiency and productivity that a balanced team of diverse thinkers will end up being more effective, taking more options into consideration, and making better decisions.
This kind of “whole brain” team was found to be 66% more efficient than teams who might be considered “cognitively homogenous.”
This idea of the “whole brain” is actually based on the Whole Brain® Model, a four-quadrant metaphorical model of the brain. This model was developed by Ned Herrmann in Crotonville, at GE’s world-class corporate university, and it segments the ways we think into four clusters of preferences, all of which we have access to, but only one or some of which we tend to gravitate toward.
You can think of these quadrants each as a sort of different “thinking self” that you possess within you. Some of them you’ll spend more time with than others, like a go-to hitter on the baseball team, while the others might spend more time cheering from the bench.
Getting to Know the Thinking Selves We Prefer
While there are certainly some biological underpinnings to the idea, the core of this sort of cognitive diversity is about preference – preference of thought.
The four clusters—analytical, organized, interpersonal, and strategic—can each be understood as a preferred mode of thinking with its own unique value to a group or organization. Without each of these types present, and likely multiples of each, since we all have our own specific ways of understanding them, an organization is unlikely to be run successfully in the long term. In a database of over two million thinking types at Hermann Global, patterns of thought that are specific to particular occupations have even been identified.
This depth of understanding is what brings us to an essential realization: using a validated assessment tool, thinking preferences can actually be measured. The results of such measurements can then be used in analytics, predictive measures, and other key workplace performance metrics and outcomes.
That’s how you start getting intentionality into your drive for cognitive diversity. You’ve got a tangible way to dive into diversity of thought throughout your organization, explore how different thinking selves will work together, and give them the tools to optimize their strengths and abilities. This will generate teams that can attack problems from every angle, hone in on specific problems each group member is best at solving, and create efficiency and innovation where before it didn’t seem possible.
Promoting Diversity of Thought
While diversity of thought is generally present among any appropriately large group of people, this doesn’t mean it’s always being harnessed or utilized in a meaningful way. That starts at the top.
Leaders must be inclusive, valuing different thinking styles equally and recognizing what each brings to the table, promoting and encouraging different people to access their different strengths. Without this kind of leadership, organizations are failing to empower their workers, and the workplace can quickly descend into conflict, disorganization, or worse. Many well-meaning efforts end this way, when the effort and intention simply aren’t there.
It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more inclusive the leader, the more cognitively diverse the team ends up being, and the better the results. This ends up encouraging further inclusivity and creativity at the top. It starts simply: making sure everyone is heard, keeping the game plan clear, and encouraging open discussion and accountability.
“Whole brain thinking allows us to understand, appreciate, and most importantly, leverage the diversity that naturally exists in the organization.” – Rich DeSerio, Manager of IBM’s Leadership Development
The first steps are always the most difficult, despite how simple they often seem. You may think you can just bring in people from all backgrounds and life experiences and leave it there. You’d be wrong – there’s no miracle cure! Leaders and HR professionals within your organization have to go a step further, taking the best and brightest of each thinking style from among your workers and encouraging the dissemination of ideas between them. You can use tools like the Whole Brain® Diversity & Inclusion Checklist to get an idea of where to begin.
Many organizations, like our clients, work with us to administer the HBDI assessment with their leaders and employees. This allows each person to receive a unique profile, with strengths and insights to improve their learning, communication, and other developmental opportunities. Any organization looking to diagnose the diversity of thought gaps in order to create a more inclusive culture should consider doing the same.
Remember: intention is key. The promise of cognitive diversity can be unlocked by sincere, driven effort to promote its benefits in your workplace.
Ty Miller is a facilitator, coach, and the Chief Operating Officer at Carver & Associates. He teaches organizations how to lead Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion culture changes, and how to support the development of high-potential, ready next leaders.
Get in touch with me here: firstname.lastname@example.org