Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords in the business world today. Companies seek diversity for a number of reasons. These might include a commitment to corporate values, a need to comply with employment laws or to enhance performance. But many businesses have a limited view of diversity related to gender, race, and ethnicity. Thought diversity is the most important aspect of diversity. While other aspects of diversity demand attention, actual differences in ideas may be most valuable diversity asset. For this reason, thought diversity is quickly becoming the most sought-after features of the corporate culture.
Defining What Thought Diversity Is and Isn’t
Perhaps Malcom Forbes best defined thought diversity. He described thought diversity as “the art of thinking independently, together.” However, embracing this can be more challenging that you might think. For decades, firms have sought to achieve decision-making through consensus. After all, this is the democratic way. But as it turns out, consensus models do little to foster creativity, innovation and unique problem-solving. In fact, consensus models interfere with efficiency and key insights. A business can have dozens of employees from all walks of life. They are, however, doomed in today’s marketplace if they insist on consensus, agreement, and excessive structure.
Telltale Signs That Your Business Lacks Thought Diversity
Sometimes, it can difficult to appreciate a lack of thought diversity. Complacency can sneak in, and before you know it, no one is expressing any contrary opinions. Several red flags can help you determine if your business suffers from a lack of thought diversity or not.
- Employee Parallelism – Does your work environment look like a tetras maze filled with cubicles and divider walls? Do project teams even have individualized assignments that are pasted together for project completion? If so, then varied ideas and perspectives are likely to be absent. Poor interaction and a lack of collaborative environments are less likely to have thought diversity. Different views are not always expressed even if they do.
- Groupthink Rules – Groupthink is a common problem, especially among firms that seek consensus and among leaders who want control. As a result, groupthink moves firms to the least common denominator of innovation and creativity. If everyone tends to agree with decisions and solutions, then thought diversity has little chance to impact outcomes.
- Expert Overconfidence – When your firm has a problem, do the same “experts” keep coming up with the solutions? This may be a leader, manager or simply someone with expertise. If this is the case, overconfidence in the expert’s decision can undermine thought diversity and creativity.
- Conflicts Are Rare – Is your work culture like being in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood? Are disagreements tolerated or quickly resolved to avoid uncomfortable feelings? Conflicts are clear indications that thought diversity exists. Of course, constructive management of conflicts and disagreements are needed to maximize productivity. However, a lack of conflict certainly is a bad sign that thought diversity is suppressed or absent.
- Risks and Vulnerabilities Are Bad Things – Businesses that avoid risks at all costs and perceive vulnerability as a weakness tends to be very uniform in nature. Firms with thought diversity, in contrast, invite risk-taking within reason and see vulnerabilities as opportunities. Which one is your business?
- Overemphasis on the Positives – The best time to express thought diversity is when a problem arises. Sometimes, however, firms tend to avoid thinking about the problems and focus on successes. If attention is always on inspirational achievements rather than targeting areas for improvement, then thought diversity is likely lacking.
Strategies for Your Business
Recognizing that thought diversity is insufficient in your business is a necessary first step. But once this is realized, firms can take a number of steps to promote thought diversity over time. The following are some important tasks many firms have used to achieve diversity and inclusion success.
- Out-of-the-box Hiring – Consider hiring more unconventional employees into your firm
- Know Team Members – Get to know your staff, their unique talents, and their individual approaches to tasks
- Ask Uncomfortable Questions – Instead of asking “What do you think?” questions, ask things like “What part do you like least?”
- Adopt Reverse Mentoring – Take opportunities to have younger and less experienced staff mentor older and more experienced staffs in their techniques and approaches
- Create an Open Culture – Promote and honor values like respect, trust and acceptance while encouraging dialogue, participation, and opinions
- Invite Disagreements – The first few answers to a solution should not satisfy you. Dig deeper, invite conflict of ideas, and promote active conversation about pros and cons
- Revamp Performance Rewards – Consider rewarding teams for performance instead of individuals to encourage exchange of ideas and opinions
Final Words about Business and Diversity Needs
Having diversity in numbers is not enough for modern businesses. Firms of tomorrow will embrace diversity in multiple aspects. This includes thought diversity, which might be the most important diversity element of them all. Businesses that appreciate this simple fact will be much more likely to excel. Therefore, seeking thought diversity is highly important for firms today.
John R. Miles
EVP & Associate Publisher
John R. Miles is Executive Vice President of Business Development and Associate Publisher of Bold Business. He is a sought-after motivational speaker and writer. He brings visionary leadership style and talent as a Navy Veteran and an internationally experienced CEO, COO, and Fortune 50 CIO across a multitude of industries. Miles is also an operating partner at the Virgo Investment Group where he is responsible for identifying and pursuing new investments while supporting existing portfolio companies with operational expertise. He is active on Linkedin and Twitter and published in a variety of media. Miles graduated with honors from the U.S. Naval Academy where he was a varsity athlete.