Diversity makes us smarter

January 10, 2018
Posted in City2050
January 10, 2018 Alex Blumentals

Diversity makes us smarter

Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working. Very seldom is there a problem with lack of projects or ideas. The problem typically is how to combine best groups of ideas and people that create new innovative services or solutions.

Working with complex issues with hundreds of parameters requires a new co-creation approach inviting everyone to participate where arts and creative industries play a fundamental catalyst role.

In Europe, an overflowing migrant crisis and the aftermath of a high-profile terrorist attack are fueling racial tumult in several countries; in the US, a contentious Supreme Court case about affirmative action just opened up in the midst of escalating race-related frustrations on college campuses. In Myanmar, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who prevailed in elections recently is already under fire for relative silence on the status of the Rohingya, an ethnic minority persecuted at the hands of Buddhist monks and government security forces.

With those kinds of conflicts as backdrop, it’s worth noting that a large body of research—conducted across dozens of years, countries, and situational settings—maintains that racial and ethnic diversity is critically important to our communities, our social institutions, and even our own brains.

When we are able to effectively combine this diversity into the S2S Reactor, we will not only release the Group Genius and Grit during the reactor activity, but augment in general our collective capacity for action. All the pieces are already here, they just need assembling and only diversity can be used for complex challenges.

A community is the collective sum of the value of its individual inhabitants multiplied by the community’s ability to synergize these individual parts (by curating organized and random encounters). Every encounter or engagement has an opportunity to be a synergistic one. Empathetic cross-pollinated engagements are the key. The city of Alexandria during the time of Euclid was a perfect example of this. Even though there were organized discussions and forums, just walking down the street could lead to a serendipitous encounter that might result in a groundbreaking discovery.

The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision-making and problem solving. Diversity can lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers. Scientific American

INFORMATION AND INNOVATION

The key to understanding the positive influence of diversity is the concept of informational diversity. When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions and perspectives. This makes obvious sense when we talk about diversity of disciplinary backgrounds—think again of the interdisciplinary team building a car. The same logic applies to social diversity. People who are different from one another in race, gender and other dimensions bring unique information and experiences to bear on the task at hand. A male and a female engineer might have perspectives as different from one another as an engineer and a physicist—and that is a good thing.

  • Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.
  • It seems obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, nonroutine problems. It is less obvious that social diversity should work in the same way—yet the science shows that it does.
  • This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

THE POWER OF ANTICIPATION

Diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table. Simply adding social diversity to a group makes people believe that differences of perspective might exist among them and that belief makes people change their behavior.

Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another’s perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.

VALUE CREATION

Gender Diversity in Leadership is Tied to Higher Returns

According to a 2014 report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, “Companies with higher female participation at Board level or in top management exhibit higher returns, higher valuations and higher payout ratios.” This study examined 3,000 companies across 40 countries and all major sectors, from 2006 to 2014. Download the PDF

Diversity Leads to Innovation, which Leads to Better Performance

In 2013, the Harvard Business Review published research conducted by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall and Laura Sherbin that involved “a nationally representative survey of 1,800 professionals, 40 case studies, and numerous focus groups and interviews” to analyze the business impact of diversity that is either inherent to or acquired by employees (what the authors called “2-D diversity”). The study found that “Employees of firms with 2-D diversity are 45% likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.” Download the PDF

Diversity Is a Key Driver of Innovation

According to Forbes Insights, “For global companies, diversity is no longer simply a matter of creating a heterogeneous workforce, but using that workforce to innovate and give it a competitive advantage in the marketplace.” In 2011, Forbes published Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce, a report based on an exclusive survey of 321 executives at large global enterprises ($500 million-plus in annual revenues). All respondents had direct responsibility or oversight for their companies’ diversity and inclusion programs. The study found that 85% of the respondents agreed that a diverse and inclusive workplace was essential for the diversity of thought needed to drive innovation. Download PDF


Every member of your community is unique and adds to its fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing.  It’s up to us to find it and help them see it. The more expressively diverse a community is, the more resilient it is and more potential it has to invoke change – both inside and outside its walls. Our focus must actively be on inclusion, not retreat into personal protectionism and paranoia of those different from us. We must resist the temptation of the comfort of “sameness.”  Nothing happens in our comfort zones. If we don’t venture into the land of wonder … we’ll never see, let alone realize the possibilities life avails to us.

At the S@2S Reactor we will look at how the project can support community and economic development and serve as the social heart of the neighbourhood, the city and the region. We will always work to ensure that your projects are economically and environmentally sustainable.

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