Or ethnicity, or gender or sexual preference. Which is not to say that these aren’t real and important issues.
But in my experience as a manager, the most important aspect of diversity, in terms of impact on the workplace and productivity, is “thinking styles”.
The concept of right brain and left brain thinking was developed from research conducted in the late 1960s by an American psycho-biologist Roger W Sperry. He discovered that the human brain has two very different ways of thinking. One (the right brain) is visual and processes information in an intuitive and simultaneous way, looking first at the whole picture then the details. The other (the left brain) is verbal and processes information in an analytical and sequential way, looking first at the pieces then putting them together to get the whole. Sperry was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1981, although subsequent research has shown that things aren’t quite as polarized as once thought (nor as simple).
Researchers continue to unlock the secrets of the human brain. According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, “the human mind is better thought of as a series of relatively separate faculties, with only loose and non-predictable relations with one another, than as a single, all-purpose machine that performs steadily at a certain horsepower, independent of content and context.”
To take this further, other researchers posit that the human brain, your brain, comprises dozens of different and separate cognitive abilities. They group these under two general categories: Fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. The first category of cognitive abilities, fluid intelligence, includes things like pattern recognition and abstract thinking, which tend to peak in early adulthood. The latter category, “crystallized intelligence” includes skills that are the result of experience and education, things like verbal ability, inductive reasoning and judgment. These abilities can continue to develop and expand as we age.
While fluid intelligence appears to be the result of nature, i.e., genetics, and therefore is relatively fixed, the good news is that we can actually have an impact on the experience-based cognitive abilities that make up our “crystallized intelligence”.
So not only do we each have our own unique array of different cognitive abilities upon which we can draw, but also our personal inventory of “brain powers” changes as we age. In other words, we all think differently from one another, but we also think differently at different stages of our lives.
I have always found that the most powerful teams in terms of output consist of a full range of thinking styles. This usually means a diversity of personalities and ages. Unfortunately, however, many managers hire employers who think (I said “think”, not “believe”) just like they do. They’re taking the easy way out. It’s harder to manage a team of diverse thinkers. But the diverse rewards justify the effort.
How often do we turn job candidates away not for race, age, ethnicity, etc. but because they don’t fit culturally within our organization? In essence because they don’t think and behave like we do.