Diversity of thought offers collective wisdom, bringing ideas together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. This is innovation.
In Rebel Ideas, author Matthew Syed extols the power of diverse thinking sharing stories such as the outsider who redesigned the cockpit within US Airforce planes in the 1950’s to greatly reduce the number of accidents, why lack of diversity meant the CIA missed the meaning behind Osama Bin Ladens seemingly simple clothes and habitat, to the crossword expert hired by the British Government in World War 2 to solve the Enigma. When you bring in diverse ideas you gain different perspectives.
This diversity in thinking is called cognitive diversity. Personality, in particular, as introverts or extroverts provides us with natural alternative frames of reference. Extroverts talk to think, processing externally and MRI’s done on introvert brains show internal processing systems through intricate neural pathways.
These individual insights can be lost if not contributed. Research shows that in a typical 6 person meeting two people will dominate the conversation. Otherwise confident introverts will often decide not to compete with stronger personalities and choose to mind their energy which gets easily depleted and not engage. This dance can happen naturally and perspective blindness occurs when we hardly notice the shift in engagement. This is a loss for everyone including the collective wisdom of the organisation.
Creating this environment for equal contribution isn’t that difficult;
- Facilitate equal participation in meetings by balancing verbal with written contributions. Amazon and Twitter hold silent meetings beginning with everyone reading a document which then forms the basis for discussion. This technique does a few things to support cognitive diversity. It allows introverts to tap into their preference for writing over verbal and contribute their ideas in a way that is preferable. It also means ideas don’t get quashed before they are considered by everyone. For introverts, who need additional time to process it offers the opportunity to settle in a meeting and have time to gather their thoughts. Further steps such as brainwriting or appreciative inquiry could be incorporated to encourage everyone’s contribution.
- To sync or not to sync was the topic of a recent twitter conversation. One half of the argument was pro synchronous communication which emphasised picking up the phone to have a conversation, the other was decidedly anti this approach preferring to use messaging and e-mail. While there are merits to both, introverts will generally prefer having time to consider their ideas and space to develop their thoughts using the written word. Build communication processes that equally balance both and recognise how preferences for either may influence ability to communicate.
- Create a psychologically safe space where everyone feels their ideas are recognised. Studies cite statistics such as 82% of participants feel the introvert personality is not valued. From poll questions in my own webinars this year, I have received similar feedback. Many introverts feel they are expected to change and many extroverts feel introverts need to be fixed. I can attest to this from personal comments made to me. Introvert author Susan Cain says introverts are today are where women of the 1950’s were.
- Build on strengths so everyone can be their best self at work. 66% of us don’t know our own strengths. Encourage an environment where you can provide specific and positive feedback to colleagues. Introvert humility will often create a barrier to really hearing this feedback, so you may have to provide visible evidence of impact and help introverts to recognise their progress and growth. When people work to their strengths, they are more likely to be motivated and perform better.
Techniques such as these Matthew Syed says, ‘protect cognitive diversity from the dangers of dominance’. He also adds, ‘Harnessing the power of cognitive diversity is set to become the key source of competitive advantage, and the surest route to reinvention and growth. You might even say we are entering the age of diversity’.