Organizations spent countless hours trying to define quality, not realizing that the definition was simple: Quality is conformance to specification. The word 'diversity' has undergone similar deliberation, but diversity is more complex. We must define not only diversity, but also aspects of diversity and manifestations of diversity.
The most succinct definition of diversity is individuality, while aspects of diversity encompass the uniqueness of every person. Only when this individuality is manifested can it be appreciated. A fundamental manifestation of diversity is seen in thought. When embraced and valued, diversity of thought can differentiate companies that grow and thrive from those that do not.
A fair amount of scholarly research has been conducted to quantitatively measure the impact of diversity on workgroup performance. Data collection and analysis have not ratified claims of team performance-positive, negative or neutral. A major limitation on the analysis process lies in the aspects of diversity that are considered in the studies. Realizing the asset value of diversity requires the maximization of diverse thinking. Some organizations identify individuals by precise aspects of diversity, although within any group, each person's thoughts are unique. In many ways, it is our thoughts that define our individuality.
Diversity of thought is a critical element in determining the ultimate performance of workgroups. Bausch & Lomb recognizes diversity of thought as the foundation of diversity, observing that various workgroups are most affected and most energized by diversity of thought. It is this component that truly defines the word. Diversity of thought, facilitates diversity of ideas, fuels innovation and generates creativity.
Since Bausch & Lomb encourages unfettered communication among team members, some interpersonal issues arise that need addressing. Although team dynamics are energized, spirited and refreshing, there is also tension and discord, often combined with a lack of clarity and focus. Bausch & Lomb deployed a parallel program in order to keep thought diversity focused and optimized. Deploying thought diversity while eliminating its deleterious byproducts remained an elusive goal.
A seamless connection exists between thought and insight. At Bausch & Lomb, this connection forged a 'spike' that linked diversity to corporate performance. This spike is insight.
Insights are valuable in workgroup discussions because they are more tangible and communicable than thoughts. Insight diversity flows from thought diversity, but it is not used to foster ideas. Rather, it is applied to collaborative decision-making in order to improve performance, fuel innovation and generate creativity. An insight-based process eliminates tension and discord, while keeping energy and passion alive.
Thought diversity and insight diversity are neither cognitive intelligence nor emotional intelligence. They are simply the application of a team's unlimited cognitive bandwidth to a collaborative decision-making process to facilitate innovation and produce creative solutions.
Unity of purpose is critical to success because groups can positively redirect the energy generated by tension, disagreement and discord. Our differences may divide us, but our goals can unite us. Utilizing insight diversity to achieve performance, innovation and creativity, corporations can maintain and expand the benefits of thought diversity while eliminating its shortcomings.
Workgroups have a natural tendency to generate ideas. The generation of ideas is eliminated from an insight-centric workgroup. Such a change erases the time that is usually devoted to the discussion of widely divergent ideas and opinions. Ideas generate more ideas that generate more ideas ad nauseum. Conversely, insights foster communication and collaboration that is passionate, but not personal.
Executives should utilize the assets that are most available and best suited to meet their objectives. They should embrace thought diversity and learn to manage it in order to harvest insight diversity. Corporations that apply insight diversity to collaborative decision-making will improve the quality of their business decisions. And better decisions produce better performance.
Clayton H. Osborne is vice president of human resources for Bausch & Lomb. Vincent M. Cramer is the author of “Cramer's Cube” and founder of Winchester Consulting Group. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.