I want to argue in this week’s blog that diversity is a gift that will only become more important in the coming decades of work. It’s not new. Perhaps one of the most famous problem solving exercises was the team that cracked the Enigma code in Bletchley Park during the Second World War. These where not simply mathematicians – but rather a group of people from many disciplines –engineers, cryptographers, language experts, moral philosophers, classicist, ancient historian and crossword puzzle experts. It was this combination of diverse ideas and insights that created the answer.
Over the coming decades we can expect working with very different people to be a simple fact of life. We can already see the early signs of how this diversity can be created. Take a look at InnoCentive to see already how thousands of people from across the world are coming together to solve challenges that inspire and excite them. Take a look at any of the challenges that are being worked on at the moment, and you will see a group of people that have diversity that goes beyond national differences. There is also an extraordinary diversity of points of view – I took a look at a group interested in urban renewal and they included an ethnographer with a point of view about changing human behavior, and an entrepreneur who understands how to get ideas translated into action What’s crucial about these types of groups that initiatives such as InnoCentive are bringing together, is that they attract a diverse and differentiated pool of people keen to solve the problem. And it is not simply information diversity - after all they simply have to go to Google or Wikipedia for information. What’s crucial about this diversity is that it is also based on problem solving diversity.
The superadditive effect - The power of addition and combination
Take a look at Scott Page’s recent book The Difference to really get a feel for why diversity can trump homogeneity so resoundingly. The simple truth is that diversity leads to better outcomes in a world as complex as the one we will inhabit in 2025. Diverse groups are better because each member brings a perspective that is unique and can then interpret what they see through their own unique experiences. So the ways they think about generating solutions and predicting cause and effect will also be diverse. The sophistication of the final solution they come up with will be the result of the addition of what they each know. What is also important to the sophistication of their final solution is the value of combination. It’s not simply that their various ideas are added, they are also combined – and it’s this set of unique combination that brings the super additive effect (as Bayesian statistics would predict). Of course it is not that all the combination will be useful– but some will and some will bring innovation that could be crucial to the team.
Diversity of ideas, points of view, interpretations and solutions is a gift in 2025 because diversity trumps homogeneity – collections of people with diverse perspectives and ways of seeing the world outperform collections of people who rely on homogenous perspectives.
Of course if you take a closer look at the new hung conservative/liberal pact what becomes clear is that whilst Cameron and Clegg may differ with respect to certain policies – from the perspective of diversity they are remarkably similar. Male, similar age, Westminster/Eton, Cambridge/Oxford. So we can expect that their superficial difference to rapidly evaporate – so much for the power of diversity in the current UK government!