We have often heard the saying: “Complex problems require simple solutions”, but have we actually taken time to really think about what this statement actually means?? Does it just mean deliberately seeking out a ‘simple’ solution when we have a complex problem or does it mean something more??
‘Thought’ or the act of thinking is a fundamental characteristic or trait that typifies all human beings. We are by nature ‘thinking things’ according to Rene Descartes, the renowned 17th century philosopher. But thinking is never done in isolation. Thinking is always derived from the sum total of each individual’s background and experiences. This is what makes it unique or different – and herein lies the central thesis of our discussion: It is diversity of thought or the different ways we think, that provides the simple solutions to some of the most complex problems we face.
Burrhus Fredric Skinner, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University was well aware of this issue. In thinking about the different ways we think, Skinner argued that all human beings are necessarily products of their environment. For him, this is, at one and the same time, a uniqueness as well as a ’limitation’. What we know as a result of thinking, is derived from the socio-cultural, economic and political interactions each individual has within their specific environment, he argued. But it is also true to say that of all living things, human beings have the ingrained ability to constantly overcome these apparent limitations – through the effective use of rational intelligence.
The ‘effective’ use of our rational intelligence, otherwise called diversity of thought occurs when, as social beings, we use our combined rational abilities to overcome complex problems and as such aspire toward higher levels of intelligibility, and hence gain greater strategic clarity. Overcoming Skinner’s environmental constraints, necessarily involves engaging and linking-in with a varied number of ‘intelligences’ – and by implication their related range of experiences – using these as strategic ‘building blocks’ to access higher levels of intelligence – and thus arrive at solutions to complex problems.
The thinking being put forward here is a simple one: by using the best of our ‘intellectual diversity’, not only will we be more disposed toward new levels of thought and thinking, and as a consequence be more able to find solutions to complex problems, but importantly, these ‘new’ levels of thinking, serve as the basis for informed and inclusive decision-making given their naturally diverse character. But there is a further point that needs to be made here: how often have we tried to find a solution to a problem that appears complex to us only to find out upon asking a friend or colleague that they have the answer at their finger-tips? By engaging the diverse thinking of others, we immediately place ourselves in a great position whereby we benefit from finding solutions to problems which whilst appearing complex, are actually simple to those whose intelligence we have engaged!
In line with this thinking, it is fair to say that the argument for diversity of thought is in fact an argument for greater intelligibility. Indeed, intelligibility has always been at the very heart of organisational development and societal progress, a point referred to by Lord Davies in his recent report on ‘Gender Inclusivity within Boards‘: “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 agree with Lord Davies, I do however think he is slightly at pains to explain ‘the why’ of inclusive thinking & decision making. What is it about his 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 – profitability, ROI, etc. But his fundamental argument, though about how diversity facilitates better decision-making, in my view, should even more so, be about conscientising us of the power inherent in our intellectual diversity and the somewhat ‘unforeseen’ levels of intelligence we deny ourselves by not proactively engaging it in the workplace as an opportunity and solution that stares us directly in the face! After all, intellectual diversity (or diversity of thought) is essentially about creating a competitive edge, an edge that comes from the intellectual property (IP) developed through ‘joined-up’ thinking in the workplace…
Diversity of thinking (thought) or the effective use of rational intelligence underpins the business case for diversity and inclusion, and is the crux of what it is actually all about: when different ideas are brought together in the workplace and positively challenged and utilised, it leads to better business, and signals the beginning of lasting positive change…