At this point, The Difference is seven years old, but it is still as relevant as ever. That’s because Scott Page’s message is timeless: the importance of a rational, logical, value-driven approach to diversity (and diversity management). According to Page, diversity can be a powerful force in problem solving. In fact, diversity trumps sheer ability: diverse groups of people produce better outcomes than similarly skilled but non-diverse groups.
Often, people rely on compelling anecdotes to make the case for diversity management. What makes Page’s book so critically important is that he uses the discipline of complex system analysis to add empirical weight to these stories and confirm that diversity produces better outcomes.
Diversity Of Perspectives, More Solutions
Page’s key finding is that diversity produces benefits because it offers the likelihood of different perspectives. All human beings have blind spots. In groups of people with the same backgrounds, all the members will tend to see problems the same way. The groups’ shared perspective can lead to everyone get stuck on the same problems. But if you bring together diverse perspectives, one person will overcome the issue that stumps another, creating more complete solutions.
Think about Procter and Gamble’s open-innovation program. By allowing people from all over the world, from all sorts of industries, with all kinds of backgrounds, to pitch ideas to the company, Procter and Gamble gives itself access to all kinds of new ideas — ideas that the employees themselves may never have come up with.
The Formulas For Diversity’s Success
But this is just another anecdote, so let’s look at how Page, along with Dr. Lu Hong of Loyola Chicago, constructed two models to mathematically demonstrate that diversity can, in some situations, trump sheer ability. The first model, expressed as a narrative, shows that diverse groups of problem-solvers outperform groups of the best problem-solvers because the diverse groups get stuck less often than the smart groups composed of people who tend to think similarly.
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The second model is expressed as an equation that applies to making predictions: Collective Accuracy = Average Accuracy + Diversity. This means that average accuracy — the ability of the people in the group — is supplemented by diversity, which makes the group’s accuracy higher than it would be otherwise.
Diversity: The Logical Choice
Overall, I agree with two of Page’s key conclusions:
- We need to go on offense with diversity — the benefits are there for the taking.
- We need a logical approach to diversity.
We spend too much time and energy on activities that detract from the value of “true diversity” — activities that focus on surface diversity, like race and gender, rather than diversity of perspective. With a logical approach to diversity, we can focus on true diversity. We can test diversity management in the workplace and experience the improved outcomes that result from managing collective wisdom.
Page’s work shows that Deliberate DiversityTM is the logical choice: diversity of perspectives means more solutions and more successes. Why would we under-invest in it? Let’s go on offense.