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Encouraging Diversity of Thought

Photo used with permission.

Too often in the workplace we overlook the power of diversity of thought. Many times we shy away from those who have differing opinions from us, when collaborating with them would yield really creative innovation.

Recently I observed that some people have such strong political beliefs it excludes them from even socializing with people from the other party. What a shame, what a missed opportunity for connection and community.

This made me think of the power of diversity of thinking and how a good leader stays open minded and seeks varying points of view in order to be innovative and to solve their organizations’ challenges. This is critical to gain necessary perspective.

That is why millions are spent on focus groups, market research, and social media campaigns. Companies have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in order to hear straight from the customer, to learn what they like and don’t like, and to interact with them. If the leader is a 40-year-old female, and her customers are 16-year-old males, she needs to see product attributes from the view of her customers. It just makes good business sense.

So why do leaders forget all this when it comes to solving problems inside their organizations?

If you have ever needed to solve a problem that was very complex, and it required working with people from other departments, you may have found yourself thinking things like, “This is frustrating! They don’t think like us. What do they know? Why can’t they appreciate what we’re going through over here?”

And diversity extends beyond departments; it encompasses the backgrounds of the people, the culture they grew up in, their age, the part of the world they are from, their gender, and of course their position, and work experience. Someone from finance and supply chain may have polarizing views on how to solve a particular issue.

Leaders must recognize that these differences exist, and equip people with tools for working together. As individuals, the key to embracing diversity of thought is to embrace these differences, seek out opinions from others, test your ideas and solutions with your peers and mentors from other departments, ask questions and be curious.

Come from the perspective that you have something to learn at this moment. Ask open-ended questions that draw the other person into the problem-solving process. First and foremost, identify and agree on the definition of the problem.

The Six Thinking Hats is a structured method developed by Edward De Bono. It is an approach to problem solving that brings diverse thinkers into a parallel, collaborative and productive discussion. Watch this video for an explanation from De Bono himself:

Where have you seen diversity of thought in action?

Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.

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