Cognitive Diversity

If you are a responsible manager today, I am sure you want a more diverse organisation:

Received wisdom is that the more diverse the teams in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender, the more creative and productive they are likely to be.

However, this is not the kind of diversity you are looking for. According to Alison Reynolds and David Lewis, what you actually need is cognitive diversity: differences in perspective or information processing styles, and different ways to engage with new, uncertain, and complex situations.

Cognitive diversity is more difficult to attain, because while it is usually easy to tell apart age, ethnicity, or gender; cognitive diversity is not so evident. Moreover, cultural barriers usually restrict the degree of cognitive diversity, even when we don’t mean to. “We recruit in our own image,” and unsurprisingly organisations often end up with like-minded teams.

It is not difficult to agree, even sympathise with Alison and David’s thesis. Understanding how to actually put this to work in a real organisation seems quite a challenge. The methodology they use to characterise cognitive diversity is based on a tool developed by Peter Robertson, The AEM cube(1), which he claims to be fundamentally different “from most existing psychological assessment tools, by the falsifiability of its purely cybernetical foundations.” On the other hand, the evidence for cognitive diverse team’s higher performance is the time to complete a challenge they do not describe in the article.

All this is surely thought-provoking, but I would like to see further evidence.


(1) Robertson, Peter P. 2005. ‘Always Change a Winning Team’.

Featured Image: Colourful Faces


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