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The power of cognitive diversity


On 10 November, we closed the autumn 2020 Ahead programme series with the webcast 'The power of cognitive diversity'.

We welcomed Charlotte Badman and Emma Lee of Matthew Syed Consulting to talk to our 92 attendees about diversity of thought and growth of mindset.

Inspired by the works of Matthew Syed, and in particular his latest best-selling book ‘Rebel Ideas’, the session combined research with rich story-telling to provide a thought-provoking yet practical session. Here are some of the key take-aways:

The UK now

The session opened with some insightful statistics. Overall, there is 33 per cent female representation on FTSE100 boards and, as of March 2020, four boards had all male representation.

In terms of BAME, only 7.4 per cent are represented on FTSE100 boards while 47 boards have no representation at board or executive director level1  (as of 2019).

Diversity of thought drives higher performance

Diversity and inclusion are under scrutiny in governance from both clients and employees. It isn’t always clearly communicated within organisations that studies show diversity of thought to positively impact commercial performance for organisations.

What is diversity of thought?

Cognitive diversity is when members of a team bring different perspectives, insights, experiences and thinking styles to a problem. By harnessing their collective intelligence, organisations see improvements in:

  • Knowledge sharing
  • Decision quality
  • Creativity
  • Innovation

Creating an inclusive team

‘The Clone Fallacy’ is the misconception that cloning the best performer creates the best team. In business, you can create a team of highly intelligent individuals – but it doesn’t guarantee results.

It’s human instinct to want to work with like-minded people and thinkers, but this can lead to affinity bias and create blind spots in a team. Cognitive diversity avoids echo chambers and increases effectiveness in complex environments.

Ways to engineer diversity of thought

Four key areas to start with include:

  • Recruitment: source diverse candidates with different backgrounds and from different generations, for example. Also try blind recruitment where a candidate’s demographic is hidden.
  • Meetings: encourage diversity of ideas by ensuring the leader speaks last when generating ideas. Other techniques include accelerated thinking and actively encouraging debate and alternative views.
  • Teams: create cross-functional project teams. Consider also a shadow board to contribute different perspectives and feedback to senior leaders.
  • Connecting ideas: build diverse networks both internally and externally.

Overcoming challenges

Managing cognitive diversity isn’t always easy. You’re likely to face friction, including task and relationship conflict due to opposing ideas – which can also add time to processes though outcomes will likely be better. And to unlock cognitive diversity of thought, leaders and managers need to create psychological safety so that everyone can express their views.

Performance = diversity of thought + positive team dynamics

Organisational performance is linked to decision-making quality, creativity and innovation. These require combining diversity of thought (identifying blind spots, creating diverse teams and using innovation techniques) and positive team dynamics (including trust, safety, knowledge sharing and collaboration).

A huge thank you to Matthew Syed Consulting for this insightful session.

To find out more about cognitive diversity and other leadership webinars and workshops from Matthew Syed Consulting, visit www.matthewsyed.co.uk.

Download the power of cognitive diversity infographic.

View reference.

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