How does growth happen? I’m talking about growth in an organisation. How do they solve problems? Does a company’s management team sit around a table and discuss the options for expansion and everyone agrees, goes away and implements it in a happy wonderland? Or does the person at the head of the table issue orders, everyone nods, goes away with smiley faces and implement? Or do the discussions not only involve the management team, but employees from different departments? Does the marketing team go out and do market research to test if these ideas will work? Is there conflict back at the big table? Maybe harsh words are spoken? Sometimes a cooling off period may be needed, possibly at the pub?

I think growth and change happens better when you have diversity in an organisation and to some extended conflict. Different opinions being discussed weighed up or disagreed upon, before a decision is made.

Scott E Paige, who wrote the book: The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies was recently interviewed by The New York Times.

He believes that diversity in an organisation is necessary for success, not only in companies but in countries, universities, most places really. Paige suggests rather than asking “Why can’t we all get along?” you should ask “How can we all be more productive together?” The answer is in messy, creative organisations and environments with individuals from vastly different backgrounds and life experiences.

He proposes that people from different backgrounds look at problems from different angles. In groups where everyone has been trained the same way, think the same way, people will inevitably get stuck in the same places when faced with a problem. “People with diverse tools on the other hand will get stuck in different places. One person can do their best and then someone else can come in and improve on it.”

There is proof in this theory of Paige. Together with Lu Hong, an economist at Chicago’s Loyola University, he developed mathematical models around the performance of diverse groups and groups consisting of similar thinking individuals. And surprise, surprise the diverse groups got stuck less during the problem solving process than the similarly trained individuals who tended to think alike.

Paige does add that his claims of the benefits of diversity rest on certain conditions. “These conditions require, among other things, that diversity is relevant—we cannot expect that adding a poet to a medical research team would enable them to find a cure for the common cold. Further, for diverse groups to function in practice, the people in them must get along. If not, the cognitive differences between them may be little more than disconnected silos of ideas and thoughts. Diversity, like everything else (excepting, of course, moderation), has its limits.”

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