These are all classic examples of confirmation bias: when it comes to questions of subjective belief, we search out evidence to confirm that which we believe to be true and aligns with our general world view. When there is dissonance between our vision of how things should be, we look for reasons for that dissonance – often in the form of flaws in others’ thinking. And flaws in thinking inevitably spill over into flaws in character.
The problem is often that there is a conflict between standing out and fitting in, between voicing disagreement for the good of the team and jeopardizing social cohesion to the detriment of the team.
The construct that our world views are shaped by culture, background, experiences, and personalities is core to the concept of diversity of thought. Organizations that bring people together with diverse perspectives on a wide range of things – i.e., how to learn and communicate, where they find inspiration, the way they approach problems – can create conversations that stimulate creative disagreement and cultivate tolerance and open-mindedness. The problem is often that there is a conflict between standing out and fitting in, between voicing disagreement for the good of the team and jeopardizing social cohesion to the detriment of the team. “You don’t have to look like us” means little when “but you do have to think like us” is standard operating procedure.
The person who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd.
Some of the world’s most innovative companies have relied on creative disagreement to foster growth. For example, Alfred Sloan, General Motors CEO from 1923 to 1946, famously closed a senior executive meeting by saying, “Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here.” Everyone nodded. So, he continued, “Then, I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until the next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement, and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”
Amazon requires diversity of thought over social cohesion. The thirteenth leadership principle at Amazon is:
“Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit: Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.”
Because the fundamental premise of diversity of thought rests on bringing together different ideas, it cultivates more ideas, better ideas, and guards against groupthink.
Does encouraging people push boundaries and challenge ideas happen without friction, effort, or conflict? Of course, not. It’s much easier to hire, promote, collaborate and even communicate with someone who shares your values and beliefs. But, without friction, effort, and conflict, growth isn’t possible. Criticizing someone simply for having a different opinion is as not much different from criticizing yourself for having different opinions 10 years ago. Growth isn’t just about challenging the views of others, it’s about challenging our own views and the existing systems and norms that support those views. In addition to growing intelligence, we must also learn how to grow intellectual humility.
Make one of your corporate values that you foster a culture of inclusion that values diversity of thought, empowers employees and inspires collaboration. A good first step is understanding the irrational judgments we often make because of subconscious implicit biases. Check out my whitepaper Cognitive Bias at Work in the Workplace or contact me to discuss how I can bring a professional development session on cognitive biases to your organization.
“Diversity: The art of thinking independently together.” – Malcolm Forbes
You might also enjoy reading Getting Diversity Right: The Missing Ingredient.