Diversity of thought is the antithesis of groupthink. It spits in the face of likeminded-ness. Okay, that was harsh, but you know what I mean.
Diversity of thought welcomes ideation, innovation, creativity. It takes the average company’s blind and lazy adherence to the status quo and wrings its neck, and with good reason. Adhering to the status quo can be the reason a company loses a market leading position and slides slowly into obscurity Goodbye Kodak, Blockbuster. Hello Netflix, Redbox.
Change happens so quickly, organizations cannot in good heart refuse to consider new ways of thinking, behaving and doing business. But they do. Why? Mostly because of fear and bad leadership.
Bad leadership is often the culprit for most business failures, but I threw fear in there because it’s often the reason that leaders are bad. Fear can take on a number of disguises. Insecurity is a big one, and insecure leaders – who fear losing their position, fear taking risks, and fear losing control more than they desire to have influence – can have a significant impact on culture, performance, innovation, collaboration and all those other things that organizational profit margins hold so dear.
Leaders have to model the behaviors they want the rest of the organization to adopt. But too many only pretend to embrace innovation and change – hallmarks of diversity of thought – while their daily behaviors and actions scream, stop shaking things up; stick to the established script because “that’s how we do things here.”
You might be thinking, there’s no way anyone in their right mind thinks that. Um, yeah. They do. There are tons of leaders running companies who uphold dated, risk averse rewards and recognition systems, management practices and cultural norms that promote sameness and discourage change.
Diversity of thought is a cure for that. It shakes up traditional thinking. Diversity of thought takes chances. It promotes difference. It is unafraid of the discomfort that may come with diversity and inclusion. It sees that discomfort not as something to be avoided at all cost, but as something that is part and parcel of doing good business.
Here are three ways a lack of thought diversity can hurt an organization. In such an environment:
- Employees hesitate to act or to contribute their ideas. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a brainstorming meeting where most of the ideas are shot down without due consideration, and the one – emphasis on one – that finally gets a green light is only slightly different than what is currently being done. To add insult to injury, that mildly interesting – and that’s being generous – idea comes from the boss’ favorite. Gag.
If that’s how things typically go it won’t be long before people start inventing reasons not to attend brainstorming meetings. And if they do attend, only a few people will bother to contribute, while the other attendees just nod or smile sickly while nodding and wait for it to be over.
Autonomy is also important in companies that embrace diversity of thought. Granted, organizations can’t have everyone doing their own thing all the time. Rules have their place. The best example I can think of to illustrate the value of autonomy and freedom in work is those big hotels like the Ritz Carlton that give employees a small budget of discretionary funds with which to please customers. High customer and employee satisfaction and creativity are often the result.
2. Talent is creatively stifled: I’ve often sneered at the idea of bringing your whole self to work. I mean, it’s great – in theory. The problem is, most companies aren’t set up to enable and nurture this kind of talent management strategy.
To start, most often companies hire who they’re comfortable with. They minimize risks wherever they can. And when they do find a fabulous creative talent, an employee who’s skilled and energetic, capable and professional, but also the tiniest bit – or quite a lot – different, they smother them. Antiquated rules, unspoken and real, crush creativity. Unconscious bias and microagressions are common for that new talent who looks a little different, speaks a little different, acts a little different, requires an accommodation, or is a woman. And these things actively discourage that talent from contributing fully.
Eventually they stop trying. People get tired of being treated like they’re different – “You’re so radical and out of the box!” This said with an expression that suggests the milk’s gone bad – and that’s a bad thing. Especially when leaders are often actively requesting exactly what they’re trying to offer and being rebuffed for providing.
Lip service sucks. Nobody likes to be patronized or have their time wasted. Even worse, when a companies does finally figure out what’s good – usually after a competitor adopts an idea – they want to rush implementation in a frantic game of ‘hurry and catch up.’
Stop that mess, man! Aggravating the hell out of people, overworking them, and acting like they’re not moving fast enough when they told you months ago to wake up and smell this Instagram feed! Or, whatever.
After a while, creative talent in this kind of environment will languish. They get bored, their performance suffers, and they may leave to find new challenges elsewhere. Or worse, they stay, grow bitter, and because they’re bitter, they turn in subpar work, and happily – or unhappily – spread their bad attitude far and wide.
3. Leaders – and by association, employees – are risk averse. Employees are not going to bother to generate new ideas let alone submit them if they know their leaders aren’t going to listen, or entertain a pilot or experiment to test one out. Those who have ideas for new products or improved services are not going to volunteer to lead projects or teams if they know – having tried and been rebuffed for one flimsy reason or another more than once already – the key projects always go to the employees leaders are comfortable and familiar with.
If a company’s culture – and leaders are a visible extension of that culture – does not like to take chances, it’s often obvious. Those who attempt to introduce change are subtly discouraged in myriad ways, and that is a surefire way to encourage groupthink, discourage fresh ideation and snuff out creativity like a candle in the wind.
There are ways to take risks without breaking the bank or risking a company’s reputation. Experimentation can take on many forms, but leaders have to be willing to take chances. They have to be willing to be a bit vulnerable, to embrace diversity of thought and action in order to evolve.
But here’s the kicker. Diversity of thought cannot exist without diversity and inclusion. All of these things are related. They feed one another. So, it’s up to you. Encourage competitive advantage by embracing change and experimentation and taking some risks, or nah?