March 30, 2015

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter

Scientific American published a great article last fall that looks at the research surrounding diversity in ways I'd never seen before.

Author, Katherine W. Phillips, summarized decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers, showing that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.

It seems obvious that diverse individual expertise would better contribute to complex problem solving. It's less obvious, however, that such social diversity would work the same way in groups.

People with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints, and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

Diversity pushes innovation. It provokes thought. It powers anticipation.

"The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise. You have to push yourself to grow your muscles. The pain, as the old saw goes, produces the gain. In just the same way, we need diversity--in teams, organizations and society as a whole--if we are to change, grow and innovate."

Read it here: Scientific American, "How Diversity Makes Us Smarter"