Diversity FAQ’s No 19: How is diversity connected to Business Strategy: Part III – ‘Decision making’

 “All human beings are necessarily products of their environment” – Burrhus Fredic Skinner, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University

The above statement by Skinner, though true, implies a limitation: that human beings are limited by what they know. Indeed, what they know, and that which limits them, is derived from the socio-economic, cultural and political interactions they have within their specific environments. But it is also true to say that of all living things on the planet, human beings constitute that species which has the ingrained ability to constantly overcome these apparent limitations – through the effective use of intelligence – and herein lies the key point our topic of discussion attempts to answer:

It is my thinking that at the heart of effective decision-making lies the question of intelligence, that rational ability all human beings use to overcome their natural limitations so as to aspire toward greater levels of intelligibility and hence higher strategic clarity. The process of overcoming Skinnner’s environmental constraints, I suggest, necessarily involves engaging a varied number of ‘intelligencies’ – and by implication their related range of experiences – using these as strategic building blocks during the decision-making process to access higher levels of intelligibility.

The thinking being put forward here is a simple one: that by utilising the best of our ‘intellectual diversity’, not only will we be more disposed to developing fresh and new business strategies, but importantly, these agreed strategies would be based on an informed decision-making process given their naturally diverse character.

In line with the thinking above, it is fair to say that the argument for the greater use of diversity as an indispensable part of the decision-making process is in fact an argument for greater intelligibility. Indeed, intelligibility has always been at the very heart of societal progress, development, and that toward which we all aspire, a point indirectly referred to by Lord Davies in his recent report on Gender Inclusivity within Boards.

Reading through the very first page of his report, Lord Davies states rather clearly: “There is a strong business case for balanced boards. Inclusive and balanced boards are more likely to be effective boards, better able to understand their customers and stakeholders and to benefit from fresh perspectives, ideas, vigorous challenge and broad experience. This in turn leads to better decision making”. He concludes by saying that the case for inclusive boards is in fact, a key driving factor for achieving profitability and return on investment.

Now, whilst I do agree with Lord Davies thinking, I do however think he is slightly at pains to clearly explain ‘the why’ of inclusive decision making. What is it about Lord Davies’ thinking on inclusive decision making that is synonymous with our identity as human beings, and to which he appeals? He is perfectly right to point to the tangible outcomes of having inclusive boards, such as profitability, ROI, etc. But his fundamental argument, in my view, though is about how diversity facilitates better decision making, should, even more so, from a baseline perspective, be about conscientising us of the power inherent in our intellectual diversity and the somewhat ‘unforeseen’ levels of intelligibility we deny ourselves by not proactively engaging it as an opportunity and solution that stares at us directly in the face.

What we are saying above, underpins the case for diversity, and indeed, decision making, which in my view are inextricably connected for any viable business strategy. This idea is linked to the thinking that when different ideas are brought together and positively utilised, it signals the beginning of a new era of change, development and greater intelligibility. There are many instances from which we can draw inspiration in this regard; from decisions taken to create new products that sparked the industrial revolution in the 1700’s, through to joined-up thinking that characterised the development of new technologies in the present time. These events occurred due to an ingrained desire to proactively use our intelligence…

I look at what I learnt whilst in school; studies in quantum theory and molecular physics where we were taught that the tiniest of single atoms such as hydrogen combined with other single atoms such as oxygen to form the new indispensable substance called ‘water’ from which a range of other new life sprung forth. I was taught that when hydrogen mixed with carbon, hydrocarbon was formed, a substance that necessarily constitutes all living things. In human biology, I was taught that the conjoining of the female egg with the male sperm leads to the formation of new human life. All these indices tell me one important thing: that 2 (3, 4 or 5) different heads are always better than 1, and points to a model of decision making, underpinned by our intellectual diversity, that we ought to embrace within business leading to new levels of strategic clarity.

Below are a few tips to bear in mind then when trying to make intelligent decisions:

  • Always try and think outside the proverbial box/dare to be innovative– ask yourself: What can I do differently? Does this decision conform squarely to the norm? Don’t forget, innovation always happens at the edge of what initially appears to be rational…and at the same time nonsensical or as they say “the edge of the cliff”.
  • Agree to spend time really listening (note not hearing) others viewpoints – remember, whilst you might not agree with what is said, there is always some ingredient of truth that can be found within those views
  • Consult with your wider audience and proactively seek a diverse range of views. Remember consultation never hurt anybody, indeed, it will help highlight areas you may have probably over-looked
  • Don’t be worried if you’re confused, unclear, feel lost, indecisive, etc – this is normal and indicates that you are only human!
  • Never discount or be afraid of your ‘gut feelings’ or instincts, trust them – they often point to the right decision to take in the first place!
  • Do your research: Use recognised best practice models of decision-making as a guide to arriving at the best decision for your business. Indeed, don’t be afraid to re-tailor them accordingly to suit your needs

Following these simple but logical steps in the decision making process, I believe, will gradually and systematically open the doors to intelligent decision making, arising out of our intellectual  diversity – the natural off-shoot being greater workforce diversity and by implication, new and competitive businesses.


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2 responses to “Diversity FAQ’s No 19: How is diversity connected to Business Strategy: Part III – ‘Decision making’

  1. Chris

    This is an interesting view which, from an academic point I support. I would comment that on a practical level many intelligent decisions have been arrived at by using a diversity of thought and input, however there are many barriers that are created, and one that is worth raising that directly links to the original question is; Many real decision makers have ingrained ideas of authority and power which unconsciously disengage those not in a ‘perceived’ position to be of influence to the conversation leading to a decision. When we consider the stereotypical ideas many people have of minority groups how easy is it for them to value any input?

    • Chris,
      An extremely valid point. There are no doubt a number of personal barriers we unconsciously place which prevent us benefiting from wider consultation from those ‘percieved’ not to have a view., which in effect negatively impact the ‘brightness’ of organisational strategy

      I think ‘power’ and ‘authority’ are typical of those barriers – and it is interesting that some may argue that one of the main issues preventing greater inclusivity at Senior Management levels has precisely to do with power, and atleast, the subconscious fear of not being in control of the way ‘things have normally been performed’.


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