Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Diversity and Innovation


The word diversity is “trending”. With racial tensions around the globe with the influx of refugees from war-torn countries and the judiciary system (among others) that have failed our “colored” population (ugh, I don’t like that term! Is black no longer politically correct? How about non-whites if I want to also include other minorities/ethnicities?) every publication and media outlets are including the word diversity at every opportunity. As a matter of fact, the repeated use and misuse of the word have taken some of the gravity away from the discussion on the importance of diversity, where there is now a backlash with the use of the word diversity.

Innovation is another tired word. But because it is considered to be directly linked to economic prosperity (and possibly increase in quality of life that comes from identifying cures for diseases, etc.), this word continues to enjoy some clout.

Ok, that was a long warm up to introduce my key question, which is that in many of the articles where both those words are used, they seem to emphasize the importance of diversity because they assume that diversity is linked to or causes innovation. That is often the premise and they explore further how we can bring more diversity to the innovation process. Sure, I already buy the assumption so I’ll keep reading these articles, but WHY does diversity improve or increase innovation? What is it about diversity, having a heterogeneous group representing different races, sex, religion, socio-economic status, etc. that results in more or better innovation?

Sure, with people from diverse backgrounds, there may be more ideas that are generated with different points of view, but more isn’t necessarily better, as the paradox of choice research has shown. I so believe that diversity is better, in a team, for a company, in networking, (of ingredients) on a plate, that I didn’t think about it much further.

According to this article in Scientific American, diversity makes us smarter not because people with different backgrounds provide new information but apparently, interacting with people of different backgrounds forces us to be better prepared because we anticipate alternative viewpoints and consensus will be required. …Cool.

I was thinking about the mechanism of how that works in our psyche. My thesis is that diversity helps the innovation process because diversity forces us to confront our ideas not necessarily based on facts but on assumptions. With a homogeneous group, assumptions are shared, and therefore, they are often treated as facts. When someone from a different background enters the discussion, they have to explain from step 1, except that they realized there was a step 0 before that where they assumed a few points which may not have been obvious to the new member or may not be considered true.

Diversity covertly challenges our assumptions, thereby interrupting our deep tendency for confirmation bias, a cognitive dissonance where we tend to collect, interpret and favor information that supports what we already believe. How deep? Even people who are aware of this phenomenon rarely escape it. Here, try it yourself using this quick puzzle.

Do you believe me now? Don’t be too quick to agree with me though, because that would be your confirmation bias speaking.

Photo: Diverse fruits and vegetables available at Seattle’s Pike Market, Washington.

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This entry was posted on January 21, 2016 by in Culture, Psychology and tagged , , , , .
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