How Diversity Makes You A Better Thinker

This is quite the foolproof argument.

The most successful civilizations throughout human history have demonstrated the ability — no matter how warily — to adapt through acculturation and evolve alongside others. The benefits of diversity today are largely acknowledged and often desired, as companies strive to innovate and political parties vie for voters. But the pushback against diversification, exemplified so powerfully in political upheavals in 2016, speak to the enduring fear of change and differences, even though the latter is often a societal concept, like race. 

Its obvious social rewards aside, diversity is also good for your brain, particularly in a culture endlessly hungry for growth. In a 2014 article for Scientific American, Katherine W. Phillips argued that her decades of research concludes that diversity makes us smarter. Phillips, a professor at Columbia Business School, laid out how diversity improves creativity, leads to better results, and encourage breakthroughs. 

How varied can ideas be coming from people with similar backgrounds and experiences? Chances are not much. Informational diversity is what different people from different sections of society can bring to the table. "When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions and perspectives," Phillips wrote. "A male and a female engineer might have perspectives as different from one another as an engineer and a physicist — and that is a good thing."



Having more women higher up in the corporate food chain leads to better financial health and increased innovation, Phillips argued. Unsurprisingly, these improvements are also seen when corporations invest in racial diversity.

Phillips also references studies showing that diversity provoked deeper, more nuanced thought, if only because they come from people who are so obviously different. She explained:

In 2004 Anthony Lising Antonio, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, collaborated with five colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, and other institutions to examine the influence of racial and opinion composition in small group discussions. More than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.
Shutterstock.com
Shutterstock.com

Diversity also makes people work harder. Phillips found that those in homogeneous groups are largely comfortable in that they assume they will easily agree with each other. But when they notice social differences, they were more careful, thoughtful, and introspective when discussing issues. 

Phillips likened the struggle prompted by diversity to a relatable activity many of us hate to do but do anyway, because its benefits are obvious — working out. "The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise. You have to push yourself to grow your muscles. The pain, as the old saw goes, produces the gain," Phillips wrote. "In just the same way, we need diversity — in teams, organizations and society as a whole — if we are to change, grow and innovate."

[H/T: Scientific American]

Cover image via Shutterstock.com

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