I’m reading Matthew Syed’s The Power of Diverse Thinking and you will not be surprised to learn that the basic thesis is that people with different perspectives may make for better decision making.
Syed describes how a team that’s made up of very similar people often have a great time working together. If you like having a drink with mates and enjoy a regular round of golf and all the people around you like doing the same sorts of things work life can be fun – you get deals done in the pub and on the course.
This togetherness, this camaraderie, this homogeneity is great if you’re part of the in crowd but it makes it harder for others who are not. This often means that people who don’t fit in learn to fit in – they learn to talk and act in ways that will be accepted by dominant group. After all, conformity is rewarded while being seen as different is often a career-limiting strategy.
For example, I have little, no, actually no interest in sports. I like playing them, but not in watching others. But many interactions in the business world start with a conversation about sports, one that I find hard to participate in – and so I usually don’t. I have tried to take an interest, but it is just so boring.
People who don’t fit in find it hard to get ahead. Sometimes they find it impossible to get started at all. Imagine you’re forced to move to a new country and you encounter a different language, a different culture, a different religion. Do you hold on to what you had where you came from, or do you change to be more like the new place in which you find yourself. Some people can’t do it at all, their children are the ones that are the natives in the new world.
Now, of course, there are arguments on many sides. If you want to join a company, a country, you should be willing to accept the values of the place you’re trying to join. But too much consensus, too much of the same kind of thinking has historically resulted in people making very bad decisions.
Syed argues that diversity in thinking is good but you would need to be a special kind of person to get the balance right. First you have to make an effort to get people in a group that are very different from each other. Then, you have to have a conversation where you may have very different points of view and make sure that it leads to consensus rather than argument. Maybe the only way to get started is by having targets and quotas, no more male only panels, for example. A truer reflection of society in politics and the media. Making sure everyone has a voice.
That kind of thinking needs a mature, grown up society, a liberal one – one that is increasingly rare in a world where it’s much easier to be parochial, tribal and nationalist. It needs rules of procedure and engagement that are seen to be fair to all.
It shouldn’t really be this hard to do.