Thought diversity: why you can’t afford to ignore it

When you sit down with your team to brainstorm ideas to address the challenges facing your organisation, what solutions are you presented with?

Fresh new approaches? Brand new ideas? Or the same solutions you’ve always been given. Maybe dressed up in slightly different clothing, but essentially the same ideas, re-hashed.

If it’s the latter then you’re suffering from a lack of thought diversity.

As we’ve touched on previously many of the organisations we work with are experiencing unprecedented challenges.

Unprecedented challenges call for unprecedented solutions.

Across the NHS, not-for-profit and social care sectors the multiple challenges presented by system reforms; organisational change; managing cross-sector relationships; and financial pressures, are calling for new solutions. Solutions that haven’t been thought of yet.

Coming up with these solutions will require leaders and their teams to work together in completely different ways.

“We need diversity in the world to face new challenges.”
Tim Berners Lee

What is thought diversity?

Diversity has a new frontier. Up until now diversity initiatives focussed on the fair representation of underrepresented groups in society.

But this is no longer enough. You need to think beyond diversity quotas and visible characteristics if you want to encourage the innovation needed to adapt and survive in a challenging environment.

You need to tap into a range of perspectives, backgrounds and experiences. You need thought diversity.

Thought diversity is about the unique blend of identity, culture and experience that informs how people think and behave.

It requires a focus on realising the full potential of each person, and in turn the organisation, by acknowledging and including each person’s unique perspective and different way of thinking.

Positional power and rigid hierarchy can consolidate ignorance at the top, meaning that the full breadth of knowledge, experience and potential in the wider organisation is missed.

Leaders, individually and collectively, must let go of the idea that ‘this is the way we do things around here’ and instead focus on creating a culture where people are encouraged to learn from each other and feel comfortable contributing new ideas.

“Each human being has a unique blend of identities, cultures, and experiences that inform how he or she thinks, interprets, negotiates, and accomplishes a task.”
Deloitte Unversity Press

Advances in neurological science over the last 10 years, have improved our understanding of how the mind works. For instance, most of us are familiar with the distinction between left and right brained thinking and it’s impact on how we perform at work.

This research demonstrates that we all have different thinking and problem solving styles and strengths. One person’s strength might be numbers, while another’s might be recognising patterns, and yet another’s creativity.

This research has opened up thought diversity as a nuance that existing diversity policies do not address.

It offers a new layer of insight that organisations can use to maximise the collective potential of the people within it, by harnessing the power of diverse thinking styles.

Getting comfortable with dissent

Thought diversity elevates diversity to a whole new level. It challenges traditional ways of doing things with the same old people in the same old way, guarding against group-think and expert overconfidence.

Dissent is a good thing. It leads to better solutions.

A 2010 study at Northwestern University found that teams that included members with diverse points of view make better decisions than homogeneous teams.

However this wasn’t because of the influx of new ideas, but because dissension triggered better problem solving.

The study also found that while homogenous groups were more confident about their decisions than diverse groups, they were more often incorrect. They remained unaware of those within the group who disagreed, convinced that everyone had agreed with the prevailing point of view. Opposing voices had been silenced.

By instinct we all protect what we know in order to survive. But to innovate and come up with fresh ideas the opposite is needed, which can be uncomfortable.

The magic happens when you are forced out of your comfort zone.

So, if you want new solutions, instead of trying to get the same people to think outside the box, why not bring more diverse ways of thinking into the box.

People who are dissenting may be disruptive but giving them a voice, and making dissent a valid part of the process is how you’re going to survive, evolve and more forward.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be delving deeper into the benefits of thought diversity and talking about how you can encourage different ways of thinking in your organisation.

If you’d like to find out how we can help you encourage thought diversity in your organisation get in touch today. Email


Diversity’s new frontier, Deloitte University Press

Better decisions through diversity, Kellogg School of Management, NorthWestern University


Sign Up to Access Our Insights and Publications

Sign up to read our latest Inspire Magazine and access insights and publications on our website. You will then receive our latest News, Inspire Magazine and Publications straight to your inbox as soon as they're released!