How Diversity Leads To Innovation; A Cognitive Perspective

18/10/2016 17:28

We are living in the human era, where we are witnessing incredible technological advancements as well as expanding ourselves cognitively. This mental and technological advancements will allow us to start solving highly sophisticated problems like complex diseases, overpopulation, climate change, racism, and social inequality.

Most companies have realised that in order to reach effective solutions to complex problems, they have to hire multi-disciplinary teams. Organisations like Arup, Accenture, and IBM have been doing this for decades, however in order to reach peak collective cognitive performance, we shouldn't only focus on industry diversity but also demographic diversity. This means looking at gender, race, sexual orientation and culture. In Forbes Insight's report on diversity, Rosalind Hudnell said "because of our diverse workforce, we've experienced a boost in productivity. When you can move people to contribute to their fullest, it has a tremendous impact".

The recent Tory conference dealt a huge blow to UK's diversity, which only adds to ongoing problems we see in industry. From tech, science, to fashion, industries struggle with having a demographically diverse workforce. Aside from the very important issue that it is discriminatory and prejudice to not hire people because they don't fit with a company's culture biases, it is also very harmful to innovation.

In this article we focus on two cognitive strands that have an impact on innovation. Ideas are not all created equal; when they come from a diverse intellectual pool they will be stronger than those that come from cognitive echo chambers. The first point to explore is the relationship between cognition and experiences. How we think and how our brain is networked is in part to do with our social, physical, and mental experiences. For example, how an Inuit thinks and perceives the concept of space would be vastly different than someone who has lived in Manhattan their entire life. One can observe structural difference in the hippocampus, and altered activity in the visual cognitive system. This results in differences in their cognitive processing - for example how they map their navigation of a space, or even how they feel about space.

The second strand is the link between language and cognition. The idea that different languages can influence how we think goes back to the 1930's with the work of American linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf. They studied how different languages vary and how speakers of different languages think differently due to the language they speak. Studies have shown that teaching people new colour words, for example, changes their aptitude to distinguish more colours. Also teaching people new words for "time" gives them new ways to conceptualise and think about it. In other words, it provides and understanding that language shapes our mind and influences how we think.

Linking the two strands to innovation, the more culturally, gender, and racially diverse a company is the more types of cognition or intelligence they will have access to. Different people bring different ways of solving problems based on their life experiences and the languages they speak. We need this level of cognitive diversity in the workforce if we are to be industry leaders and create solutions that will be effective and intelligent. The good new is that there companies being set up to help with orchestrating diversity within industry. For example, Sarah Bunter's casting agency helps fashion brands find modelS from diverse backgrounds, Nuanced helps brands communicate and reach marginalised demographics, and Brook Graham, advises companies on how to hire a diverse and inclusive workforce.

In this period of human evolution there is no room for the era illiteracy presented by the current UK government, where an international and demographically diverse workforce is being shunned.