Diversity at Medium

Kudo’s for the efforts you are putting into creating a diverse culture. I’m curious about what might be built if you expanded the definition from identity diversity to cognitive diversity. I’m a big fan of Scott Page’s http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/08/science/08conv.html?_r=0 exploration of how diversity can benefit us all. One of his core ideas is that it’s cognitive diversity that leads to better groups, firms, schools and societies.

Cognitive diversity is the result of bringing together people with diverse perspectives, interpretations, heuristics and predictive models (mental models). The challenge with defining diversity by differences in gender or ethnicity is that these things alone (although they do alone create a different culture) do not predictably result in they kind of diversity that improves outcomes, especially creative or innovative outcomes. The related challenge is that cognitive diversity can be harder to hold together. Meaning that when you bring people together with differing fundamental preferences (these reflect values) it can be more difficult to make decisions. It can also be harder to hold onto a culture of choice.

Might there be ways to elicit cognitive diversity from existing teams? One way may be to seek out the existing divergent thinkers and make sure they are able to safely be part of creative teams. By safely I mean creating an explicit culture of applauding wrongness. One of the challenges with divergent thinking (all INTPs know this) is that when you come up with 100s of ideas you are bound to be wrong about many of them.

Another way to nurture cognitive diversity is to use roles on teams. Kantor’s four-player model http://mitleadership.mit.edu/r-fpmodel.php not Belbin’s. Using this kind of model helps people see things differently and builds internal cognitive diversity.

I’m curious about the drive for diversity. If the vision is to create a culture of inclusiveness and fair representation of customers or clients then identity diversity is definitely the way to go. If however the vision is of creating an organization that innovates and creates then cognitive diversity might be the better goal. My guess is that the vision may be to do both.

I love that you are making your culture and values transparent and that you are seeking a more diverse group. As you have said, it is a hard task and nailing (identity) diversity is a job and half in itself. My concern is that if the vision is just identity diversity you may miss out on some of the amazing things a cognitively diverse group can accomplish.

Just my thoughts :-)