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Inclusion and Diversity

When was the last time you had a team meeting with someone outside your usual circle of colleagues?

This is a question – and a challenge – laid down by Peter McDonald, a collaboration expert that I met with last week.

Peter works for a consultancy that focuses on helping people collaborate. And they go about it in a pretty radical manner.

One of the things they do is run workshops with people with different profiles, roles and jobs  (and often diametrically opposed perspectives). Many of their workshops involve going into charities and finding solutions to their most challenging business problems.

The results are fascinating. Given often really difficult and complex challenges to resolve, often the more diverse and potentially conflictive the group is, the more disruptive the thinking. And the more creative and interesting the ideas, suggestions and solutions are.

What they’ve found is that participants come up with different, better and quicker ideas that challenge the status quo partly because they are fresh, and there are no politics or hierarchy; but also because they’re encouraged to be true to themselves and bring all their experience from all parts of their life to help solve the problem.

One of the core objectives of Peters’ work is to dismantle what social psychologists, political scientists and others call Group Think.

Group Think is a term used to describe what happens when the desire for harmony and consensus overrides objective critical analysis or evaluation of alternative viewpoints. It’s what happens when, out of loyalty or a sense of belonging, we conform to an idea or a framework to the extent that we lose our individual creativity or independent thought.  And it leads to an in-group mentality, where we are convinced we are right – and anyone in the out-group is wrong.

And if that sounds a bit abstract, it’s worth remembering that a lot of analysts attribute the financial crisis to Group Think. The housing bubble was based on the prevailing and unquestioned view that property prices would always continue to rise. Right? Wrong! But think of the number of smart, informed people who refused to process evidence to the contrary, and paid the price.

When I talked to Peter, we discussed inclusion and diversity as a key to unlocking Group Think. Not just diversity in terms of where we come from, our outlooks, backgrounds, ethnicity and gender. But diversity in how we think. And inclusion in the way we ensure that everyone’s input is valued and people feel empowered to contribute.

Disruptive thinking – when ideas crash and collide – can produce the kind of creative collaboration that takes us out of comfort zones, and drive our ideas to a whole new level.

So how can we create the right kinds of environment to foster creative thinking and meaningful exchanges of ideas? And how do we really nurture the opportunity to disrupt – without falling into the temptation to stick with what we know?

Well one way might be to invite people you don’t normally work with to brainstorm a strategy or problem -- people from different functions, different age groups.  And strive to create an environment where everyone can contribute ideas….any idea….crazy ideas. An environment where all ideas can be explored, and not discarded for deviating from the norm.

How does this sound to you? Challenging or exciting?

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