Diversity of Thought in the Workplace

I know sport might be a bit of a sore topic for some this week, but despite football not quite making it home, it is still a huge achievement that the England team made it to their first major men’s final in 55 years.

While there are certainly a number of contributing factors that made this possible, I discovered last week that in 2016 Gareth Southgate created a Technical Advisory Board, and understanding more about it really explains the benefits fostering a neurodiverse workplace.

The article says, logic dictates that if Southgate (or in this example Redknapp) wants to understand more about football, he should ask football experts….

The curious thing about these arguments is that they are, on the surface, persuasive… But do you see the problem? Redknapp already knows what Pulis knows. They were each socialised into the assumptions of English football: a way of setting up tactically, diet, recovery, you name it. They are, if you like, intellectual “clones”.”

And so Southgate gathered a team of experts from other areas: an Olympic table tennis player, a military commander, a cycling coach, a technology expert and so on. This Board advised Southgate on a range of disciplines relevant to his field.

The thing is, the article makes two other key points, that really resonated with me.

Neurodiverse rebels

One is that this advisory board, people who think differently, are not rebels in the disruptive sense, but bring a fresh way of thinking to the table. This makes me think that the opposite of a neurodiverse environment is one that prizes a “cultural fit”. “Cultural fit” is shorthand for “we’re all the same” and while I appreciate that teams who can understand each other easily can maybe move more quickly or cut communication corners, they aren’t necessarily set up to find the best possible solutions. That’s because, as argued above, they are teams of intellectual clones, who will all approach a problem in the same way.

We need to be mindful in our hiring practices and with promotion and mobility that we steer clear of unconscious bias and really do choose the right person for the job, especially because not all neurodivergent adults are diagnosed and/or disclosed.

Embracing discomfort

And secondly, the article talks about echo chambers being comfortable but self limiting. I suppose this is an extension of the point above, but healthy challenge won’t always be comfortable. Comfortable is not going to result in innovation or creativity. And in a way, we select people like ourselves, those with “cultural fit” to avoid the discomfort that diverse teams should embrace.

But the prize on offer if we embrace this diversity is significant. This related article states that within economic forecasting, the average of the top 6 forecasters is 15% more accurate than the top forecaster’s estimate. That is because the top 6 forecasters each use different models that will take various factors into account.

Let’s all be a bit more rebellious, embrace the discomfort, and generate some innovative solutions!

Where can I read more on diversity of thought?

If you want to read more, Southgate’s Technical Advisory Board member Matthew Syed has written about this in his book Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking.