Reducing diversity to a ‘tick box exercise’ fails to exploit its role in strategic decision making and innovation

High-performance expert and best-selling author tells the Advanced World Conference to embrace the competitive advantage diversity brings and a growth mindset

A high-performance expert and best-selling author has said that businesses reducing diversity to a tick box exercise are failing to exploit its role in making strategic judgements and innovating fast.

Matthew Syed told more than 3,000 business professionals at Advanced World this week that diversity is a key area of competitive advantage. Yet, it is underestimated in what it can do to help organisations innovate more effectively.

“We are attracted to people that think just like us,” Matthew explained during his keynote. “It makes us feel smart when people are telling us things we already know. The pleasure centres of our brains light up when people are mirroring our perspective. However, this can suppress thinking and creativity, which are so important in a world that is rapidly changing.

“Organisations with people from the same background, and with the same knowledge, will narrow their perspective, and they will miss out on opportunities which come from connecting with diverse groups of people. The result is this echo chamber, in which everyone agrees with each other all the time, thus becoming more confident about very narrow assumptions.”

Matthew also shared how easy it is for leaders to drift into a fixed mindset due to hierarchical society during his keynote. When a leader assembles a diverse group, for example, it’s incredibly easy for people lower down the social hierarchy not to share what they truly think but share what they think the leader wants to hear. Yet, the data on the power of diversity in shaping culture and improving performance is overwhelming. A diverse group of economic and social forecasters, while individually less impressive, would be 15% more accurate.

Matthew adds: “In the words of Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, we need to shift from a mindset of ‘know it alls’ to a mindset of ‘learn it alls’. When we learn it all, even if we are super smart, we can learn more. We can expand our collective intelligence. So, when someone says something that challenges our perspective, we don’t see it as a threat but an opportunity.

“What’s more, this growth mindset culture needs to begin to organically value diversity as a performance tool and a cutting edge asset. Is it the right thing to do? Yes. Is it something that enables us to be more socially progressive? Yes. Also, critically, it can help us to perform better. And if we don’t have this last element, there is often push back from the organisation.”

The keynote ended with Matthew highlighting the impact a fixed mindset has on an individual’s self-confidence and the need for continuous dialogue and reflection with oneself to stay in a growth attitude and remember there is always an opportunity to learn. 

Gordon Wilson, CEO at Advanced, concludes: “As someone who is passionate about creating diverse and inclusive communities, I found Matthew’s keynote fascinating – and timely too as we’ve seen COVID-19 become a catalyst for prioritising diversity in the workplace.

“It’s not only right to recognise and celebrate differences and ensure everyone has the opportunity to thrive, but it’s also critical for any business to create a diverse and inclusive culture and view it as a cutting-edge asset to continuously improve.”

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