Diversity: A Neural Pathway Untapped

Diversity: A Neural Pathway Untapped

Business July 29, 2021 / By Larry Robertson
Diversity: A Neural Pathway Untapped

How and why diversity isn’t just right, or natural, but the key to creativity, adaptability and success.

Diversity is, especially in today’s environment, a hot topic, and should be, but perhaps for more reasons than you think. It’s hot in the sense of the priority it has rapidly gleaned since the rightful furor over George Floyd’s murder, and the magnifying glass that tragedy put on a long-standing state of inequality and false oneness. It’s hot because it reveals raw and deeply ingrained emotions and deeply held beliefs that while necessary to examine, have a natural element of combustibility to them. Those are the obvious reasons. Yet, underneath them is a most important, undeniable additional reason and fact worthy of your time: We, as a human species adapt, create, and thrive precisely because of our diversity – a fact that should bring added priority to its exploration.

For all the progress in our discussions around diversity of late, too often we not only miss this vital element of our existence and advancement, we miss its promise, especially in any environment where humans gather to do things – organizations, teams, governments, anywhere. “Diverse teams are smarter.” That’s how Harvard Business Review report put it. The work behind the report was in fact originally designed to look at diversity in the way we most often default to – initially examining diversity from the familiar vantage points of gender, race, and background. They in fact looked at the research and data in such volume that new patterns started to emerge, not the least of which was a clear pattern that teams and organizations with a greater diversity of team members tended to have higher financial returns, well above the averages of their industry. But it was far more than money. It was, as noted earlier, smarts across the board. “Non-homogenous teams are simply smarter,” they concluded, and then expanded on the specifics of what they were seeing, without which the greater rewards would not have come.

“Working with people different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen performance,” the report read. “Diverse teams are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and reman objective,” they also noted. They weren’t done. “(Diverse teams) may also encourage greater scrutiny of actions, keeping their joint cognitive resources sharp and vigilant, becoming more aware of their own entrenched ways of thinking that otherwise blind them to key information and even lead them to make errors in decision-making processes.”

Others have concluded the same, from private sector companies making bold moves to change their entire cultures and strategies to more fully embrace diversity (Microsoft being a prime example), to reinforcing findings from other researchers like those at Scientific American. “The fact is,” the highly respected publication wrote in its own separate report, “if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating,” successfully and repeatedly, “you need diversity.”

To put it bluntly, what we’re really talking about here is human creativity. But rather than speaking of it only at the level of the individual, we are talking about the greater and arguably more important totality of human creativity and the need for others – diverse others – to bring it out. “Diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table. Simply adding social diversity to a group makes people believe that differences of perspective might exist among them and that belief makes people change their behavior,” noted Scientific American. Think about that. Diversity doesn’t simply enhance creative thought, it leads to shifts in behavior, which in turn begets more change in thought, more openness, more exploration… it’s as if diversity fuels a ‘collective’ brain, one in which untapped neural pathways are suddenly and successively forged, over and over, as if without limits.

It isn’t that we should skip over, downplay, or ignore the very hard conversations around our repeated efforts of the past (and even the present) to limit diversity. Indeed, exploration of those issues and emotions is critical to our basic understanding of both what holds us back and what can propel us powerfully forward. Yet as we tackle that surface complexity, we’d be wise not to forget that there is much to be collectively gained from embracing diversity as a pivotal source of human creativity.

You can learn more about the power of diversity, inquiry, and cocreation in the author’s newest book Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times.

Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times

We are two decades into this new century, and now live in a world more uncertain than certain. In this new “abnormal,” our ability to sustain far into the future, to realize our dreams and our potentialities, and to progress, depends on seeing leadership in a whole new way. Rebel leadership is that new way.

There’s a growing pattern of not just individual leaders, but entire cultures rebelling against old and ineffectual ways that have long defined what it means to lead. At the heart of rebel leadership is the emergence of five patterns seen in leading organizations across sectors. Together, these patterns outline a framework for how to successfully meet this turbulent new century and thrive. Rebel Leadership will not only reveal these patterns, but will teach the reader how to tap into the power of this framework and make it their own.

More precisely, Rebel Leadership will teach readers:
• What lies at the heart of success, no matter how much the environmental conditions might change
• How leadership is counterintuitively at its most powerful when it moves across individuals and cultures
• That, inevitably, there is only one truly sustainable competitive advantage in uncertain times
• Where leaders can find the best source for lowering risk in a changing world
• Why a long-term view has less to do with the long-term and far more to do with this moment than you’d ever imagine

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