Diversity of thought – the missing puzzle piece

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‘Which Two Heads Are Better Than One? How diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions’ – Deloitte Partner of Consulting, Juliet Bourke releases breakthrough book shedding light on how to use a diverse workforce to its full potential.

If investors knew a company was adding a 30 percent error rate to its internal problem solving, would they still invest?

Deloitte Partner of Consulting Juliet Bourke has posed the question ahead of the release of her new book ‘Which Two Heads Are Better Than One? How diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions’.

 

Diversity as a safety net

University of Michigan Professors Hong and Page calculated a 30 percent error rate when problems were solved using a single dominant approach, and conversely a 100 percent accuracy rate when five different approaches were applied. It is this diversity of thought and perspective that generates the true value for businesses, Bourke says.

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Together with Deloitte, Global Women is co-hosting the launch of Bourke’s new book with events in Auckland and Wellington on April 19 and 20 respectively. The book is already making waves overseas amongst business leaders from across a broad spectrum of industries, with many lauding Bourke as having provided the missing piece to the diversity puzzle.

David Morrison, former Australian Chief of Army and 2016 Australian of the Year, says, “Changing culture to build more inclusive workplaces is both essential and very difficult. Until now there have been no practical guides for leaders wanting to make a difference. This book changes that paradigm”.

Research shows diversity not only increases accuracy when solving problems, but also improves organisational performance and provides invaluable protection against risks that could be catastrophic to a business. But these benefits will only come about by having a richly-diverse workforce to draw from, Bourke says.

 

 

Harnessing individual talent

For a long time, the term ‘diversity’ has been floated among business leaders intent on investing in the principle, but without the tools and know-how to see the returns that come from it. Bourke says having a diverse workforce is one thing, but harnessing the individual components of that workforce, being the diverse pool of talent, to spark innovation, safeguard the business and come up with breakthrough ideas, is another thing entirely.

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“The key question businesses should be asking is, ‘are the right people talking about a problem?’ Leaders should be drawing on knowledge, perspective and expertise from all corners of their organisation,” Bourke says.

“We’re not just talking about ethnically diverse and gender diverse groups, but when people come from different disciplines [e.g. marketing, engineering, finance, HR], it helps a group to see a problem more broadly,” she says.

Bourke’s research discovered racial diversity created curiosity and elicited critical conversation within groups. Furthermore, it found gender balance sparked more equal participation during discussion, feelings of psychological safety and less tribalism.

Holistic diversity, incorporating thought, personnel and approach, can help to identify blind spots and biases that can systematically cripple a business.

Step away from the norm

“People typically solve problems using one or two mental models. We each tend to  take a narrow look at the process, options, evidence, people, risk or desired outcomes. To really reach the crux of an issue and minimise the likelihood of missing something, you need diversity of approach – that means looking at all six elements,” Bourke says.

“We are all suspects of this and, if by chance, we do take a diverse approach it is more by fluke, than by design. We are creatures of habit after all and our bias towards sameness is strong, but we need to be much more deliberate about diversity, particularly when solving problems. No one person can see it all, know it all, or do it all.”

Case in point

US President Barack Obama sets the standard when it comes to canvassing a diverse pool of advisers, avoiding marginalisation or discounting differing views, Bourke says.

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“He is very disciplined in the way he asks his table of advisers to contribute…He doesn’t do random brainstorming, he goes around the room and he really wants to understand deeply someone else’s point of view before he goes on to the next person.”

Closer to home, New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush is another example of a leader that recognises the richness and value that lies within a diverse workforce.

Bush has brought about significant changes to recruitment and established partnerships with organisations such as Te Wananga O Aotearoa to enhance diversity within the New Zealand police force.

“Attracting people with the right skills to serve on the frontline is essential to pursuing our organisational mission to be the safest country in the world and reflect the communities in which we work,” Bush says.

“As New Zealand grows into an exciting and vibrant place to live with an ever changing population, there is a responsibility which falls on police to encourage and grow the cultural competencies in our staff and throughout the ranks. This is one of the major reasons why Valuing Diversity is now one of the core values of the New Zealand Police.”

“The variety of language, cultural understanding, sporting connections and belief systems, adds value to the response provided and staff engagement with communities every day.”

Closing the gap

Embedding diversity of thought, the supposed missing puzzle piece, into a business is both a challenge and an opportunity.  The book is hoped to shed light on how leaders can use diversity to “close the gap” between the current and ultimate potential of their businesses.

Bourke says there are seven powerful questions to consider when creating and managing diverse teams.

  1. Diversity of composition. What strategies could you implement to ensure greater visible diversity?
  2. Diversity of approach. What group discussion techniques do you use to capture the six approaches to problem solving (outcomes, options, risk, impact on people, evidence, process)?
  3. Diversity of style. Do you understand the way people prefer to communicate?
  4. Biases and behaviours. What strategies do you have in place to mitigate against biases such as preferring people similar to you (homophily) and opinions you already believe to be true (confirmation bias)?
  5. Cognitive depletion. How do you counter decision making fatigue in your daily meetings?
  6. Inclusion. How do you explicitly communicate the importance of inclusive behaviour to your team?
  7. Inclusive leadership. How do you develop inclusive leadership mindsets and skills into your leaders?

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