Great Minds Think Differently: How to Enable Cognitive Diversity in the Workplace

A culture of innovation depends on diverse thinking and learning styles.

Cognitive diversity has been defined as differences in perspective or learning styles. It is not predicted by factors such as gender, ethnicity, or age. One factor that contributes to cognitive diversity being overlooked is that we often create cultural barriers that restrict the degree of cognitive diversity, even if we don’t mean to. Colleagues gravitate toward the people who think and express themselves in a similar way and recruiters tend to recruit in their own image. As a result, organizations end up with like-minded teams. When this happens, we have what psychologists call functional bias – and low cognitive diversity. Teams that reflect cognitive diversity solve complex problems faster than teams composed of individuals who approach problem-solving in the same way.

Here are a few ways to effectively promote cognitive diversity in the workplace.

Recruit for Cognitive Diversity

When you face new, unfamiliar, complex, situations, and everyone agrees on what to do, you know you need a more cognitively diverse team. Find someone who disagrees with the group and cherish them. Embrace their unique perspective and way of approaching and dealing with situations. The “competition of ideas” offered by a more diverse workforce will ensure that you’re not sticking with the same old practices. Often, organizations seek to hire individuals based on their pedigree for a specific role, such as the number of years of experience in a similar position or where they went to college. However, this hiring style limits an organization’s ability to gain the cognitive diversity needed to solve business challenges in a rapidly changing environment.

Celebrate Employee Differences

Consider establishing a monthly team meeting to openly and honestly discuss diversity topics. Organizations such as Bak USA host events where employees can share their backgrounds and traditions. They have also dedicated spaces meditation and prayer. Highlight different cultures through diversity days. Encourage everyone in the office to bring food they traditionally eat for a workplace potluck. Overall, encourage your employees to be themselves and make sure they feel their voices matter.

Embrace Collaboration & Partnership

Look for opportunities to collaborate with non-traditional people, groups and companies to explore new ways of addressing the complex challenges your industry faces.