How to use Diversity of Thought and Cognitive Thinking to build a better workplace?

Diversity of thought
Photo by Polina Zimmerman
What is Diversity Of Thought? What is Cognitive Thinking?

Diversity of Thought is an important benefits and byproduct to have in a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Introduction

You have heard the saying ‘great minds think alike.’ But have you ever wondered if this adage is really true? Humans are after all unique and distinct from one another. So, how can every mind think alike even the great ones?

Many corporations and organizations are pushing for workplace diversity. It usually includes anything from having equal representation to equal treatment regardless of gender, cultural background, or religion.

Workplace diversity is a gamechanger for many because it gives them opportunities that may not be available to them before. However, in recent years, there have been more corporate leaders and employers who also emphasize diversity of thought, or also known as cognitive diversity.

While this is a positive step forward, diversity of thought can be quite challenging to implement if one is not careful. If done correctly, diversity of thought can be a potent factor that drives your team forward as well as help to increase your organization’s productivity.

Let’s take a closer look at what this term means and how you can incorporate it into your corporate environment.

What is Diversity Of Thought?

Cognition is the mental process of understanding and acquiring knowledge that’s derived from individual thoughts, experiences, and senses. Diversity of thought, or cognitive diversity, means the different ways people exhibit their preferred way of thinking.

Since each of us acquired knowledge and understanding through various and different ways, there are many different ways of how one thinks. Thus, diversity of thought is the process where everyone has a different preference when it comes to the way they think.

However, there are four distinct patterns of how people prefer to or tend to think. The Hermann Whole Brain® Model illustrates these four patterns into four quadrants. The quadrants are organized, analytical, strategic, and interpersonal.

The experiences we had with the accompanying senses shaped the way we think, and everyone is partial towards one quadrant of this thinking pattern. This partiality influences us in many ways, from the way we solve problems to the way we see things around us.

Having said that, we’re not bound to one quadrant. The model describes the four distinct patterns of thinking, but we usually move from one pattern to another. However, each of us tends to gravitate toward one pattern that is the most dominant to us.

This process occurs differently for every person. This creates a diversity of thought among us. No matter how much we’re alike with another person, or we may share the same thinking pattern, it’s almost impossible to have an identical way of thinking.

A group of people may need to discuss one topic, but everyone will have different perceptions and perspectives on said topic. While some may think more similarly to each other, the thought process and expression in each individual will very most likely differ.

Diversity of thought usually creates a creative environment and allows ideas to spark. Hence, this is why more leaders and employers are seeking to encourage diversity of thought in the workplace. It allows them to have predictable outcomes that are favorable to the organization.

How to encourage diversity of thought in the workplace?

It can be quite challenging to bring diversity to the table. Many experts caution against promoting diversity of thought for the sake of diversity. There is a risk of unconscious bias when employees feel they can think independently or freely.

Some might want to appear different so they go against everything everyone else is thinking, while some might unwillingly identify with an underrepresented view. Even though you try to encourage diversity of thought, your employees might end up “thinking too much.”

How can you encourage diversity of thought without it backfiring?

Avoid groupthinking

Brainstorming has been the preferred way of coming up with ideas.

People throw their ideas on the table and discuss the best one. However, if you’ve been in a brainstorming session, you’d notice how not everyone contributes equally or there’s always a few who are more dominant than others.

Groupthinking can cause you to overlook the right or potential solutions because you’re more focused on achieving a consensus. Instead, suggest each team member to forward their solution/idea via email or suggestion box.

This creates an anxiety-free environment for employees to provide their thoughts.

Use design thinking tools

A design thinking tool shifts the focus from the problems to the solutions. Instead of looking at the issues analytically, design tools help you to use practical approaches to find a creative solution through diversity of thought.

There are several efficient design thinking tools that you can use to encourage diversity of thought at the workplace. Employees can identify the solutions based on several stages and provide their ideas for each stage.

This way, you’re able to focus on solutions rather than just having ideas without resolution.

Be aware of unconscious biases

Unconscious bias can destroy potential solutions.

It typically occurs more commonly during groupthinking. You might gravitate towards someone and agrees with whatever ideas they have (affinity bias), or you might dismiss someone’s ideas solely because you’ve dealt with someone similar in the past without a positive outcome (attribution bias).

Look for solutions from your team anonymously through design thinking tools. These tools are a great way to avoid unconscious bias. You won’t focus on where the solutions come from but rather if they’re viable or not.

Importance of Diversity Of Thought

Understanding diversity of thought can contribute to growth in many ways. It’s not just one dimensional, but diversity of thought can encourage growth on a much bigger scale.

A company that encourages and promotes an environment of diversity of thought can move forward in many different ways. Instead of just thinking strategically about growth, different people can contribute to the growth by giving an analytical perspective or providing an interpersonal view.

Diversity of thought doesn’t just encourage a healthy competitive environment for people of different ideas and thoughts to share. It opens up room for discussion and offers a safe space for people to voice their thoughts with confidence.

It’s just about letting people with opposing ideas to rub against each other until they can achieve a positive outcome. It’s about valuing how everyone thinks and encouraging them to express their thoughts in a safe and discrimination-free environment.

Promoting diversity of thought in a workplace also creates added value to an organization.

While profit and productivity are priorities, diversity of thought allows people to be people. Employees feel more valued because they can voice their thoughts and are not afraid for simply thinking differently than others.

Conclusion

Diversity of thought can become a powerful driving force in your organization.

However, you need to know how to incorporate it into the workplace environment. It’s easy for leaders or employees to get carried away with “thinking creatively” without actually providing realistic solutions.

Don’t rely on design thinking tools or promoting a healthy workplace environment alone. Make sure you don’t skim or forget soft skills training so you can empower your employees’ EQ. Employees with higher EQ tend to communicate more efficiently, able to diffuse conflicts more maturely, and can empathize with others better.

With the right approach, direction, and tools, you can encourage diversity of thought to increase work efficiency, engagement, employee satisfaction, and productivity.

How to apply Diversity of Thought in the workplace?

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About the author

Jess Man

Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief and Senior Diversity Advisor at Diversity Social. Jessica has over 10 years of working with and advising employers to be more diverse and create an inclusive working environment.
Jessica's experience spans private and non-profit sectors in multiple industries.
Jessica's expertise experience is beyond Diversity & Inclusion, she is also a certified professional IT recruiter in Data & Analytics, Database administration, Artificial Intelligence area.

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