There are two major components that underpin diversity of thought for decision-making groups:
The impact of group composition on diversity of thought is always mediated by the effect of group culture.
Diverse thinking groups can avoid the unchallenged decision-making characteristic of 'groupthink' by making decisions based on facts instead of influence, authority or group allegiance.
Context matters. No one is inherently diverse (or non-diverse) thinking.
Value from Equality
Focused on overcoming bias and discrimination to increase the representation of women, minorities and other underrepresented groups such as those who are differently abled. This approach to diversity provides tangible benefits for social justice and improves access to deeper talent pools. A change in representative diversity may be readily measured as characteristics are more easily measured. This type of diversity has been the subject of the vast majority ofdiversity practice and research.
Increasing representative diversity may trigger greater curiosity will increase a decision-making group's capability for diverse thinking around the represented characteristics but will not necessarily increase diverse thinking more broadly.
Experiences, perspectives and thought preferences may actually be similar across the group. For example - adding a male accountant with a similar background to a group of female accountants may not materially increase diverse thinking, except in gender experience.
The capability for diverse thinking can be separated into two categories – 'specific' and 'wide-ranging'.
Value from Expertise
Organisations regularly benefit from having board members or executives with different vocational experience, functional skills or network connections. Specific diversity that can bring expertise that is a good fit with particular complicatedproblems where specific expertise is essential – a 'horses for courses' approach. Organisations readily manage specific diversity of thought by mapping their strategic requirements to a skills matrix to ensure they currently have or can recruit people with the desired attributes.
Value from Difference
Wide-ranging diversity of thought leverages the cognitive diversity of the 'wisdom of crowds' to address complex problems - those where there may be no clear 'best' solution. Groups with wide-ranging diversity of thought draw on different experiences, perspectives and cognitive preferences to avoid unchallenged assumptions of 'group-think'. They can also demonstrate increased creativity and innovation by conceiving alternative approaches to both opportunities and challenges.
The benefits of this broader type of diverse thinking are often cumulative, although realizing them requires a culture where dissent is welcomed to ensure that decisions are sufficiently challenged, and every group member is able to fully contribute to decision-making. Learn more here.
There are many personal attributes that could be assessed for diversity.
Some characteristics are more externally observable such as gender, age and ethnicity.
Other characteristics are less obvious, or even invisible - different ways of addressing problems (cognitive diversity), types of ability/disability, sexual orientation or differences in experiences, skills or beliefs.
An individual is not inherently diverse or non-diverse (or diverse thinking), instead the presence, or magnitude of difference is related to who an individual is compared to.
The term Groupthink was coined by Irving Janis (1918 - 1990). If a group becomes overly cohesive they may minimize conflict and rush to consensus instead of properly considering alternative options.
Warning signs for the presence of groupthink include:
Professor Scott E. Page, an American social scientist and his colleagues, used computational experiments to study the decision-making performance with complex decisions. They found that random ('diverse') groups of problem solvers can routinely outperform groups of experts. Examples in the real world range from the accuracy of prediction markets - where participants with different information sources speculate on future outcomes of elections and other world events, to guessing the weight of a cattle beast at an agricultural show - the group average is reliably more accurate than any individual expert.
This happens because experts tend to have a consensus approach to problem solving, whereas a diverse group are likely to use a much broader range of tools and tactics. They can conceptualize problems in new ways and increase the potential solutions available to them. Such groups also avoid 'groupthink' by making decisions based on facts instead of influence, authority or group allegiance.
Experts can still play a role in addressing complex problems. However, it is better to have a diverse thinking group of them. Experts are most valuable when their views are pooled with other group members who have greater cognitive diversity exemplified by a different mindset and worldview.
Other studies employing tertiary students, as well as exercises with business executives, suggest that the superior performance observed by groups containing greater DoT is attributable to the potential to generate alternative solutions, communicate unique insights between group members, and importantly, to reduce the risk of unchallenged decision-making that characterizes 'groupthink'.
Diverse thinkers are best to address complexity shown by different colours of graffiti art.
David Snowden and Mary Boone introduced the Cynefin framework in their 2007 Harvard Business Review article: 'A leaders framework for decision making'. This framework differentiates four contexts: simple, complicated, complex and chaotic.
Simple contexts and systems are characterised by established best practice; therefore, such matters should not require extensive group decision-making input. In chaotic contexts the relationship between cause and effect are shifting constantly, therefore attempting to determine the right answer is not the best use of time and resources, instead acting to impose some order should be the priority. Complicated and complex contexts are likely to of the greatest interest to decision-making groups such as leadership teams and governance boards.
Complicated systems are characterised by a clear relationship between cause and effect, there may be many interacting parts but if you can understand the inputs, you can reliably predict the outputs. Complicated tasks such as heart surgery or the preparation of financial statements are therefore best addressed by individuals or groups with expertise in the relevant area.
However, the outputs from complex systems cannot be reliably predicted, as the inputs may not be clear and there may be no definitive ‘best' solution. Many situations faced by organisations are complex, such as predicting changes in markets, selecting a new CEO or deciding where to allocate resources to respond to contrasting stakeholder preferences. Complex problems are best addressed by decision-making groups that possess wide-ranging diversity of thought, especially when they are allowed to experiment so that creative solutions can emerge.
When groups can differentiate between complicated and complex matters, they can ensure that they apply their greatest potential for diversity of thought and sufficient time on their meeting agendas for thorough discussion to the important items that are the most complex. Whereas complicated items are allocated less time and may be delegated, with greater reliance on those with the most relevant expertise.
DOT Scorecard is help decision making groups prepare for complexity.