Diversity of thought in the era of digital innovation.

Yes to cognitive diversity, with the condition of strong leadership.

Diversity of thought (also known as cognitive diversity) describes the plurality of voices, thoughts and thinking processes in the workplace. While at first glance, it seems obvious that it can only be a good thing, diversity of thought can serve as a double-edged sword, if not handled appropriately.

Let's first talk about why diversity of thought is an asset for any company, start-up or organization. The answer to this is simple: it has been shown time and again that diversity of thought is one of the ingredients in boosting creativity, resourcefulness and innovation. Studies have shown that multicultural experiences are directly linked to increased creativity and generation of those "Aha!" moments that seem to be coming out of nowhere. The more diverse the background of the employees or team members, the higher the likelihood that more flexible ideas will be generated and the higher the chances of "outside the box" thinking and unique solutions. What is more, cognitive diversity exposes team members to a wide range of cultural experiences, as a result promoting integration of variable perspectives and points of view.

The value of diversity of thought is well established, so much so, that successful companies and organizations actively seek to expose their employees to differing experiences, be that via interacting with different customers or suppliers or learning about new materials and how they work. The creative moments of "eureka" or "aha!" don't happen on their own. They are fostered and ignited by diversity and differences among coworkers who may sit around the table (either in person or virtually) and brainstorm trying to solve a stubborn, complex problem.

What should be noted, however, is that in the wrong hands, meaning under inexperienced or incompetent leadership, cognitive diversity may serve as the fuel for conflicts and stagnation among employees/colleagues and instead of creativity, it will trigger disrespect and potential dismantling of the entire workplace. Therefore, the more diverse the workplace, and the more differing the worldviews, the stronger the leadership required to balance out the multitude of ideas and approaches and to allow for all voices to be heard in a psychologically safe environment. This is particularly important in the era of digital transformation with so many novel ideas, technologies and a shifting landscape in organizational structure from a traditional functional to divisional, matrix-based or team-based model.

It is exactly the time though for diversity of thought to flourish! A pluralism of voices and multicultural worldviews will only serve to accelerate adaptability during times of uncertainty and will provide companies with the competitive advantage among their competition. Will have to repeat, however, that all this should be taken with caution: too many changes too fast may lead to the opposite results, or results may be slow to fully appear which may discourage managers and make them revert to traditional models of decision-making. Open communication among team members, active listening and building of trust and importantly strong, competent leadership will serve as the pillars of diversity of thought.

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