Great Minds Do Not Think Alike…The Case of Cognitive Diversity

Cognitive diversity can be described as different ways of thinking, problem-solving and processing information.  Some people are linear thinkers, some are lateral thinkers, intuitive thinkers and so on.  Sometimes, neurological conditions give rise to different ways of thinking and communicating.  Cognitive diversity is good for business. published a report on cognitive diversity in 2019.  They reported that cognitive diversity in a software or mobile company can enhance innovation by 20% and lower the risk by 30%.

When you only employ people who look like you, talk like you, think like you, it feels very comfortable and there will be little conflict.  Equally, there will be little creativity and innovation.  This could mean that you are trailing behind others in your sector.  If you have a team of production-line workers whose only job is to control the machinery operating the production line, you could argue that there is no need for cognitive diversity in that team.  However, if you are thinking about replacing your production line for one that is more efficient and more effective, then a mono-cognitive project team will not necessarily bring you the best options for the replacement of the production line.

Cognitive diversity is not, like anything else, without its challenges.  Leaders have argued that they’ve had cognitively diverse teams which were disastrous; nobody could see eye-to-eye on anything.  It was a waste of time and money.  As an individual, have you ever felt like you were hitting your head against a brick wall because others were just not hearing you? Perhaps you are someone who gets great ideas, but maybe they come to you later; when you were in the bath, for example. Then, there is no point in sharing them with the team because the decision has already been made?  Maybe you are constantly frustrated because, owing to a mental health condition, it takes you slightly longer to express your thoughts, and people keep trying to finish your sentences for you?  Or, you notice team members rolling their eyes.  Such situations can lead to feeling isolated and ostracised and can even lead to poor annual performance reviews because your line manager thinks you have not demonstrated good ‘team skills’.

It is always easier to be surrounded by people who think like us and communicate in the same way as us.  It gives us a sense of comfort.  It also is a breeding ground for complacency and group-think.  Cognitive diversity is good for business as long as you are willing to be open and recognise that initially, it takes some effort.  We need to understand the needs of people in our team who are cognitively diverse.  When we do this, we can ensure that our cognitively-diverse teams perform well and generate benefits for business.  There are some steps we can take to help the success of cognitively-diverse teams:

  • Know your own cognitive preferences and those of your team members. There are many tools in the market for this such as Myers Briggs Type Indicator and Honey and Mumford’s learning styles to name just two.
  • Give space to people who are, for example more reflective. Perhaps tell them the issue well in advance so they have time to consider it.
  • Share your thinking and how you got to your point of view.
  • Ask for feedback and, before you defend your position, consider whether yours is a better option or just a different option.
  • Make time for disruptive thinkers. They allow us to consider different, almost radical solutions and innovations.
  • Make a point of learning about conditions such as Asperger syndrome, Dyslexia and Dypraxia among others.

Author: Jiten Patel 

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