Definition

cognitive diversity

Contributor(s): Patrick Thibodeau

Cognitive diversity is the inclusion of people who have different styles of problem-solving and can offer unique perspectives because they think differently. Unlike demographic diversity, which focuses on achieving a mixture of statistical characteristics such as gender or age, cognitive diversity focuses on achieving a mixture of how people carry out intellectual activities, such as making associations or drawing conclusions.

A workplace that's demographically diverse can become cognitively uniform for several reasons. It could be because someone in the C-suite prefers candidates who have graduated from a particular school. Or it could be because a mid-level manager thinks it's necessary to fill an open position with someone who has the same experience as the employee who's left. The tendency for an employer to look for someone who conforms with the employer's existing beliefs is called confirmation bias. Mitigating bias of any kind is increasingly an important consideration for recruitment management systems vendors. 

Vendors are working to limit unconscious bias through improvements in recruiting and talent management software. The software looks for patterns in employment activity, academic training, volunteer work, background and accomplishments that signal differences in perspective and problem-solving. Someone previously overlooked or rejected by a hiring manager may be picked by an algorithm as an interview candidate.

Cognitive diversity is championed in a place you might least expect to find it: the U.S. armed services. The military emphasizes order and regimentation, but not when it comes to gaining competitive advantage. The Navy's Office of Strategy and Innovation says this about the importance of cognitive diversity: "Innovation requires the ability to question norms, synthesize different views and collaborate to develop unique and powerful solutions. Cognitive diversity is the DNA of innovation."

Importance of cognitive diversity in the workplace

Diversity of thought is often considered important to a successful workplace. People who bring different perspectives might see threats and opportunities that others may miss. This chemistry of human interaction is now seen as critical component of innovation.

Researchers have observed patterns in how people process information and collaborate with others. Some, for example, prefer to apply existing information to new challenges, while others tend to generate new knowledge. People also vary in their tendency to apply their own expertise versus calling on others. Teams with more diverse approaches at their disposal have been shown to be more creative and perform better.


Amy Wilkinson, author of The Creator's
Code , explains cognitive diversity.

 

This was last updated in March 2018

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