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Cognitive Diversity: A Must for Business Growth

By Laurie Jo Miller Farr

May 02, 2018 - 11:26 am

Content sponsored by PNC Bank

It is the widely accepted modern view that businesses should value thinking outside the box and that cookie-cutter thinking gets us nowhere. Diversity in team thinking makes the case for funky math—that is, producing a sum that is greater than its parts. Two plus two equals five around the water cooler and the board room table where varied points of view can tap into solutions that resonate with a broad user base.

Breadth and Depth in the Workplace

Because everyone's sphere of reference and approach is unique, framed by personal circumstances, cultural biases, and experiences, it's important to bring variety to the business decision-making process. Equally important is producing a business environment in which people feel comfortable about contributing ideas in a workplace where there is not just one right way to do things.  

Diverse Thinking Styles Are Beneficial

According to Harvard Business Review, cognitive diversity - not demographic diversity - is the key to productivity. Citing a 12-year-long study concluding in 2017 in which UK-based researchers Alison Reynolds and David Lewis followed 100 executive groups, the business periodical notes that gender, age and race were not found to make a difference in performance. Rather, the different thinking styles and ways that people approach change are what produced the best results.

Thinking styles include behaviors that the researchers identify as "collaboration, identifying problems, applying information, maintaining discipline, breaking rules, and inventing new approaches." A mix of these problem-solving techniques within a group is shown to be more effective than a group that is top heavy in any one or more of these types.

Case Study: Think Different

"Think different." was the iconic advertising slogan for Apple in 1997. "Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them." Featuring 17 of the 20th century's big thinkers like Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, John Lennon and Pablo Picasso, this became Apple's most famous catchphrase, according to advertising experts and Apple fans. The campaign's creators assert that, without a doubt, such a bold campaign couldn't have been launched without Steve Job's own personal outside-the-box thinking style.

Twenty years later, wise entrepreneurs appreciate Job's approach as they encourage cognitive diversity across growing teams to see how diverse approaches in thinking can lead to success.     

Content sponsored by PNC Bank