Emotional-Cognitive Diversity – A Key to Excellence
How do you quickly find your maladaptive biases, in a world where the evo devo psychology research, diagnostics, and predictive software haven’t yet been developed? Get your communication and behavior choices regularly critiqued by cognitively- and experience-diverse, constructive groups.
You don’t need cognitive diversity for well-defined problems, where the analytical algorithm or technique to be applied is clear. Think of well-defined procedures in any field. In that situation, people with competency in the particular skill, not diversity, is what matters.
But it is a great insight to recognize that most challenges in life and business are poorly-structured, complex, or uncertain problem domains. The edges of all well-defined problems and procedures, even in highly technical fields, quickly move into this poorly structured territory. For these types of strategic problems, cognitive and strengths diversity are key ways to increase our performance. In such situations we want to be on teams with a wide variety of thinking styles and workplace strengths. Folks who “think different” from you will challenge you to improve your social skills (System 3) and protect you from your own biases and limitations, once you are wise enough to listen to them and let them help you, particularly in those areas where they have strengths you lack.
Jim Suroweicki’s The Wisdom of Crowds (2005) is a good popular intro to the power of the diverse crowd. Complexity scientist Scott Page has collected the data and summarized the research to prove this point in his excellent work The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (2008). Page shows that sufficient diversity of both experience and cognitive styles (traits, strengths) will consistently outperform more uniform groups on poorly-characterized and complex tasks, in groups, organizations, educational environments, and cultures. Understanding your biases is of course one such complex, poorly structured task.
For managers, this emotional-cognitive diversity strategy includes learning to build and lead strengths-complementary teams. Gallup’s Tom Rath covers this well in Strengths-Based Leadership (2009), a book that describes how our traits relate to leadership domains, and how to effectively lead individuals whose strongest traits are very different from yours. We’ll cover this Gallup model later in this chapter.
Bias identification is of course just the start. Doing trait-change work is the next step, and for that you must use all your intelligences. You can use your internal intelligences to learn to recognize and value both strengths you have and those you don’t, and your social, environmental, and technological intelligences to find, listen to, and work better with folks who have strengths you don’t have.