How Cognitive Diversity Leads to Greater Innovation

Here’s how assembling a cognitively diverse staff benefits your organization.

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How Cognitive Diversity Leads to Greater Innovation

Cultivating a cognitively diverse workplace is everything. Different ways of thinking, processing, and executing can be of immense value to you and your organization.

Yes, following the correct protocols is important and helps streamline your company’s processes. And sure, often out-of-the-box thinking can push against the systems you have worked so hard to implement. But sometimes this abandonment of convention can open up new avenues and fresh possibilities that could not have been unlocked any other way.

Here’s the thing: You need people who think differently. Many of the most brilliant minds in history went against the grain and did things the way they knew how. These people were not just exceptionally intelligent. They were insistent on using their strengths and preferred methods to make waves and change the game.

So much of what we enjoy today exists because someone somewhere thought about something in a different way. They saw a problem or a specific need and they used their one-of-a-kind brain to solve the issue or fulfill the need. Without their contributions, who knows what the world would look like?

As has been proven time and again, cognitive diversity leads to bigger ideas and greater innovation. Read on to find out how.

What is cognitive diversity in the workplace?

At its most basic meaning, cognitive diversity is (at least in workplace terms) the countless different ways in which employees approach and solve problems. It’s having a team of people who assess situations differently, offer innovative solutions to big issues, and adapt in unexpected but effective ways.

Employees who think differently may spot errors others missed.

Just as importantly, employees who think differently may spot errors others missed. They may have a skill or a process that even the project manager does not possess. They could also devise a way to streamline your processes, save tons of time, energy, and money, and take your project to the finish line sooner and with great success.

Make your workplace more cognitively diverse

We have talked at length about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, and this just complements that notion further.

Many disabilities such as autism and ADHD are still shrouded in judgment and stigma, but we prefer to think of them as superpowers. Autistic people, as well as others on the greater sensory spectrum, call themselves neurodivergent for good reason. Their brains are wired differently than others, so how they think is often unfamiliar, unconventional, and straight-up brilliant.

When you have a cognitively diverse workplace, you have the advantage of having a variety of differently wired brains looking at the same problem and devising solutions in their own ways.

Because of this, these people are enormous assets to your company. They can see gaps in your systems that no one else would even think to look for. They can come up with excellent solutions seemingly on the spot.

Remember that when you have a cognitively diverse workplace, you have the advantage of having a variety of differently wired brains looking at the same problem and devising solutions in their own ways. The value of that is immense; it can mean the difference between stagnating for a decade or hitting record numbers in a year.

Businesses will not survive without cognitive diversity

This may sound extreme (and maybe even a bit harsh), but there is a lot of truth to it. The world is changing rapidly and it is not showing any signs of slowing down.

Rather than trying to stop or resist the change, it is smarter and more conducive to ride the change. Resisting this kind of change is like trying to swim against a river’s current.

The river is a force of nature. Its current will not change because you have issues with its direction. Your best option is to swim with this current and learn along the way. And because nothing stays the same for very long, it is essential that people learn to adapt. The same logic extends to the survival of a business.

See where we are headed with this? If you want your organization to survive, you need to help it adapt and grow both past and through the hard transitions.

The importance of a cognitively diverse staff

That said, one of the best ways to adapt is to have (you guessed it) a cognitively diverse staff. Properly weathering these kinds of storms means constantly coming up with ways to look at things from different angles.

Remember that insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You cannot do that without team members who think outside the box and feel empowered enough to propose bold ideas. The thing is, they need to feel welcome and safe enough to do so.

That last part is up to you, though. Part of your job as an HR manager is to foster an emotionally safe and intellectually engaging workplace that brings out the absolute best in its workers. Think of your office as a friendly forum of daring ideas, fearless accountability, and an unwavering commitment to innovation.

Organizations that get things done in cool ways

This is a big one. Think about the world’s largest tech companies and how they achieved success. They did not rise to the top because they followed the examples set by other, less successful organizations. They swung for the fences and hit a home run.

These companies knew that the way they operated was not standard or “normal” and saw an opportunity to innovate instead of imitate. Companies such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and others in adjacent industries all fall under this category.

Look to Google for ideas and inspiration. The tech giant has a reputation for being a fun, exciting, and offbeat place to work because it is a place that thrives by testing limits. The cubicles and stiff corporate culture of tech companies past do not fly at Google. Instead, work and play coexist and give life to game-changing new advancements.

The company owes this great rep to the countless thinkers and innovators who populate its offices and churn out widely used products. They do not just think and create outside the box. They live outside the box.

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New approaches pave the way for groundbreaking solutions

Traditionally, employers have wanted their new hires to fit a specific mold. They want to be able to check off boxes when interviewing candidates. They want applicants to meet certain, borderline unfair criteria to even make the “maybe” pile.

Until recently, the hiring process did not accommodate people who did not fit that mold. The system was not built for people who colored outside the lines or operated outside the box. Thankfully, after many, many years, cognitive diversity is becoming increasingly accepted in both academic and professional circles.

It is about time it is normalized, too. Allowing for new, sometimes unconventional approaches to persistent problems can pave the way for groundbreaking solutions that forever change the way industries address certain issues. That is obviously a dramatic, big-picture example, but it still applies.

But the real value is in the small-scale differences cognitive diversity makes in your company’s day-to-day operations. On a micro, more everyday scale, cognitive diversity can incrementally change the way your company runs so that your systems and protocols are more effective and more efficient.

Assembling a cognitively diverse team is the best, most prudent path to success for your organization.

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