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Great minds DON'T think alike!

A cognitively diverse team solves problems faster - so shake things up!

During the celebration week of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, media gave us a guided tour back in time, showing footage of the unrivaled event. We’ve all watched those videos of men with frayed nerves manning Mission Control. And ‘Manning’ is an accurate description, as there wasn’t much diversity; it was a room full of white men. Since then, we have seen a sea change in the diversification of the workplace at all levels in gender, ethnicity and age. Today, organizations can quickly evaluate talent acquisition/employee records to calculate diversity on the basis of gender, age, etc. and consider initiatives that may provide greater strategic and workplace balance and results. However, there is one aspect of diversity that may not have been fully considered when building successful teams and organizations but is now gaining attention: cognitive diversity.

A recent Harvard Business Review article states that it can be defined as the difference in perspectives or information processing styles. This entails how a person thinks about or engages with new, uncertain and complex situations [1]. Researchers discovered that “cognitively” diverse teams presented with complex challenges displayed high-quality interactions during their collaborations to identify problems and invent new approaches to solve them. High-performing teams nurtured and welcomed divergent perspectives and encouraged others to think freely, creating a psychologically safe atmosphere. Their accelerated knowledge processing and information exchange enabled them to find the solution faster than the teams with similar experience, education and cognitive styles. In underperforming groups, a smaller percentage made contributions, and the intervals between testing their ideas grew longer. Teams with low cognitive diversity are typically resistant, cautious, controlling and defensive. Too many closed minds can not only inhibit cerebral thinking, they can ignite rivalries within the group.

Cultivate a culture that welcomes diverse ideas. Building cognitively diverse teams can open a wellspring of curiosity and creativity. However, many executives and business leaders may need to take bold steps and break the mold to shake things up. Cognitively diverse teams can enhance a synergy of viewpoints. By forming a team of different thinkers who embrace diverse approaches you will:

• Promote contrarian thinking

• Activate individuals’ thirst to think outside the box

• Avoid assigning the same professionals who are clones of one another

• Appoint members who are eager to act as pioneers

• Encourage team cross-pollination to build new relationships

Colleagues tend to gravitate towards like-minded people, which left unchecked, can lead to a stagnation in solutions. Pitfalls of the status quo include:

• Those with different perspectives feel too restrained to share ideas

• Clients will not reap the benefits that diverse-thinking teams can bring

• Teams fall victim to groupthink syndrome

The stakes are high in our ultra-competitive business environment. I encourage you to make cognitive diversity a strategic priority. Connect with us at Epiphany Professional Development ( and we’ll explore ways you can strengthen your leaders and their teams to heighten diversity and improve outcomes. Full disclosure: I will not be able to get you to the moon and back, but we can help you and your organization achieve your mission.

[1] Harvard Business Review, Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse, Alison Reynolds and David Lewis

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