Posted by Jeff Kelly on June 29, 2008
In today’s hyper-dynamic world, the ability to solve problems quicker and bring innovations to market is essential to success. Diversity is the foundation of better problem solving, innovation, and market prediction. While there has long been anecdotal proof of diversity’s value, a sound mathematical proof was not available until Scott E. Page published The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies in January of 2007.
Last Wednesday I was fortunate to be spend a few hours with Scott. Tiane Mitchell Gordon invited Scott to speak at AOL and asked me to join them since we are working together on a new, results-focused diversity and inclusion curricula. After his presentation, Scott discussed at length how organizations can better leverage the power of diversity to improve performance and compete better in the 21st century marketplace.
Scott’s book is a revelation to any of us who have had to answer the “prove it” question regarding the competitive power of diversity. Because the book presents a mathematical proof, it is not the easiest read you will pick up on the topic. Scott is, after all, a professor of complex systems, political science, and economics. He recognized the power of diversity from an economic perspective – instead of the typical sociology or human resources perspective. Fortunately, Scott’s eclectic examples and great sense of humor soften his scientific treatise.
Our discussion was wide ranging, but can be boiled down to the title of this post: The Science of Diversity and the Art of Inclusion. Scott recognized the mathematical power of diversity, but most of the (very good) books on the topic were anecdotal and qualitative (see Frans Johansson’s Medici Effect, Don Tapscott’s Wikinomics, and James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds). Scott wrote his book to provide a mathematical equation that equates the power of diversity. The hope being that quantitative proof would encourage leaders to diversify their teams. Of course, building a diverse team is just the beginning. For diversity to deliver competitive advantage, the art of inclusion must be applied to unleash it. I’ll get to the art of inclusion in a bit, but let’s first finish pondering the science of diversity.
For too long, diversity has been viewed from a “representation” perspective. Affirmative action, EEOC lawsuits, and representation quotas put organizations into a reactionary mindset of preventative precaution. Only now are we seeing organizations emerging from this reactionary morass to recognize the strategic value of diversity. Organizations are proactively courting diversity as a competitive advantage. And we can see this dichotomy of reactive vs. proactive reflected in the current discussion of “identity diversity” vs. “skills diversity”.
Identity diversity is “old school” – the representation view of diversity using variables such as gender, race, ethnicity, etc. And it is a two sided coin – both how you view yourself and how others view you. While this type of diversity continues to be very important to building diverse teams, it may not be as important as skills diversity. Skills diversity (you can substitute “cognitive”, “experience”, or “perspective” for “skills”) refers to the tools each individual brings to their team. While the identity variables still apply to skills diversity, it is driven by the multitude of experiences that make us who we are. A person’s primary language, type of education, level of education, social customs, political beliefs, value system, problem solving methods, work experience, geographic origins, and a host of other variables all contribute to her skills diversity.
With that understanding of diversity, Scott equates the value of diversity. He mathematically demonstrates how diversity improves problem solving, innovation, and prediction accuracy. I encourage you to get Scott’s book for the detailed mathematics. But let’s bring this back to practical application. If a leader recognizes the importance of both identity and skills diversity, how does she build a diverse team? Many great minds are working to answer that question and it is what Scott and I spent the most of our time discussing. We discussed the possibility for new evaluation tools, skills assessments, psychological profiles, etc. These tools could help leaders peer into the diversity of their current team and potential new hires. But until those tools are readily available and easy to use, leaders will simply need to be diligent in gauging diversity.
No matter how a leader goes about building a diverse team, the team’s potential will never be realized unless the leader also masters the art of inclusion. A deceptively simple definition of inclusion is “managing a group so that all diverse members are given the opportunity to participate equally.” But it is more complex than that. Depending on the team and the goals, the leader will need to artfully use a number of tools to unlock the team’s potential.
And what are the tools of the art of inclusion? Because this post is already too long and my ADD is begging me to find something else to do, I will leave the art of inclusion for a future post. A weaselly way to end the post, I know. But here’s the (probably obvious) teaser: the tools are nothing that most effective leaders don’t already have in their toolbox.
Tags: business, competition, Diversity, economics, identity, inclusion, innovation, prediction, problem solving, scott e. page, skills, tiane mitchell gordon
Posted in: Business, Diversity