The Best…

By Guy Higgins

I recently read an article by Scott Page, an evangelist of cognitive diversity and professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The article, Why Hiring The “Best” People Produces The Least Creative Results, briefly discusses the advantages of applied diversity when contrasted to meritocratic practices. Dr. Page points out that the truly “interesting” problems facing organizations and society today are complex problems (balancing your college-age daughter’s checkbook after it has remained unbalanced for two years while missing four of the monthly statements is hard – but it is neither complex nor terribly interesting). Complex problems are, fundamentally, multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional, thus requiring diversity in the team developing the solution. He, therefore, goes on to discuss how, even given the need for a diverse team, members of the team cannot possess all of the knowledge of their discipline. Continue reading

Workplace Diversity

By Guy Higgins

I recently came across two articles. The first, Yes, your kid will do something with that philosophy degree after all, was a newspaper column that addressed the potential power of a classic liberal arts education. The second was condensed from McKinsey’s report on Women in the Workplace 2017 and looked at how women are faring in corporate careers. Continue reading

James Damore’s Communication Skill and Leadership at Google

By Guy Higgins

I’ve read, in its entirety, James Damore’s ten-page memo, Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, which captures his concerns about the ways in which Google approaches diversity issues and what he (Damore) thinks Google could do achieve a more representative workforce. I’ve also read some of the related op-ed pieces by columnists of both liberal and conservative bents. For those who’ve read my posts over the past six years, you may appreciate that I’ve read about and investigated a number of sources concerning diversity and differences. I, therefore, read Mr. Darmore’s memo in the context of what I’ve learned from those sources. I think that I understood his memo the way he intended for it to be understood. I want to post about two factors that I think have contributed to the firestorm that Mr. Damore’s memo has generated: first, his failure to effectively communicate his ideas on a highly emotional topic without creating “hate and discontent” and second, the failure of Google’s leadership to respond in a positive manner thereby generating more “hate and discontent.” Continue reading

“Science Gone Wrong”?

By Guy Higgins

I’ve just finished reading a book by Dr. Paul Offit, Pandora’s Lab (Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong). The seven stories (and they actually are well told stories) capture the histories of seven episodes involving science. Those episodes, in order, cover:

  • The centuries-long creation of the opioid epidemic
  • The decades-long creation of the trans fat health hazard
  • The two sides of the discovery of a way to make atmospheric nitrogen chemically useable
  • The lengthy history of how genetics begat eugenics (simplistically, the idea that “inferior” humans should not have children)
  • The decades-long rise and fall of surgical lobotomies
  • The forty-year creation of an epidemic that has killed millions of people
  • The continuing health risks created when genius colors outside the lines

Continue reading

A Booming Market for Fitness Trainers

By Guy Higgins

I completed a full workout this morning, and I feel like a spent round. I’m tired, and I can feel all the muscles I used. It was a hard and satisfying workout. I gained benefit from the entire workout even though I had to force myself to complete all the reps in all the sets. While I don’t work with a personal trainer, there are half a dozen or so trainers at my gym, and they always seem to be busy. Personal trainers aren’t cheap – they charge about as much as master plumbers. Why do people hire personal trainers when they can go to the library and check out a book on fitness that tells you everything that the trainer will tell you? Good question. Continue reading

More on that Cognitively Diverse “Elephant”

By Guy Higgins

Last week, I wrote (yet again – seems to be a favorite subject) about cognitive diversity and the potential to improve performance by putting it to work. This week, I’m going to “talk” about where we can actually leverage cognitive diversity and how we might do that.

First, I want to do a bit of exploring – where might cognitive diversity actually deliver value? As I thought about trying to discuss the subject of where cognitive diversity can contribute to improved performance, I discovered that that is a harder question than I initially thought it would be. Caveat – the following thoughts are (pretty much) all my own. Continue reading

The Six Hundred Pound (Diverse) Elephant

By Guy Higgins

Focusing on What Works for Workplace Diversity, an article recently published by McKinsey, discusses approaches for increasing (in this specific case) gender diversity in the workplace. Similarly, Damien Hooper-Campbell, the Chief Diversity Officer for eBay, spoke at a conference about how to increase diversity in the workplace.

The McKinsey article briefly mentions the correlation between (identity) diversity and performance right at the beginning and then promptly ignores how that improved performance might be achieved, focusing, instead, on developing ways to eliminate unconscious bias in the hiring process. Eliminating biases is good and it should pay off for any company successful in eliminating (or at least reducing those biases). Continue reading

Another Slant on Cognitive Diversity

By Guy Higgins

I recently read an article by Nate Silver, a well regarded political analyst. The topic of the article is why journalists were so badly in error in predicting the results of the recent presidential election. I strongly urge the Noble Readers to read the article – not for any insight into why the mainstream media got the election wrong, but rather for the lessons that apply to any organization, and, particularly, its leaders.

Mr. Silver cited James Surowiecki, the author of the book, The Wisdom of Crowds. He said that Surowiecki argues that crowds usually make good predictions when they satisfy these four conditions:

  1. Diversity of opinion. Each person should have private information, even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
  2. Independence. People’s opinions are not determined by the opinions of those around them.
  3. Decentralization. People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
  4. Aggregation. Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

Mr. Silver goes on to analyze how well the mainstream media satisfy those four conditions. I think that leaders would do well to analyze how well their decision makers satisfy those four conditions. Let’s take a look:

  1. Diversity of opinion – This is about cognitive diversity. Mr. Silver includes in his definition the importance of “private information.” Private information is information that none of the other members of the team have, but I would extend this to include all the dimensions of cognitive diversity – perspective, problem solving toolkits and prediction making. Many teams are not diverse, and, in fact, often actively pursue team coherence, selecting new members for their perceived “fit” with the team. If everyone thinks the same way and the same things, you only need one of them.
  2. Independence – This is related to both diversity of opinion and to the way that the team leader solicits ideas and solutions. It means that the leader can’t allow the raging extroverts to dominate a meeting with asides or even eye rolls. When soliciting ideas and opinions, everyone must participate and no one other than the person speaking can comment. I suspect that most meetings include a great deal of comment and discussion before all the ideas are out on the table – not so good.
  3. Decentralization – This is representation from all the stakeholder groups. Just like a football team can’t be comprised only of offensive tackles, a good organizational team needs to include representation from throughout the organization. For the really mature Noble Readers, this is part of what the old Integrated Project Team was supposed to do – before the idea degenerated into a fad within which any two people randomly meeting in the hallway became an IPT.
  4. Aggregation – This is really where the leader steps to the fore. The leader needs to use the solicited ideas, solutions, and approaches as a starting point to create a constructive discussion that builds from the ideas. Builds – not compromises or develops a consensus. Solomon’s approach to resolving the issue of the two mothers claiming one baby worked well when the solution had to be binary, but cutting ideas in half to achieve consensus or “splitting the difference” never gets to the best solution.

I suspect that when leaders analyze their teams in light of these conditions, they will find that they have created decision-making bodies (and even operating teams) that are suboptimal. Fixing that kind of a problem is not going to be either simple or quick, but the more quickly it is fixed, the faster performance will improve. One of the biggest issues the leader will have is ensuring that no one feels that their “ox was gored.” Just because one person’s idea was more heavily adopted and used does not mean that the ideas put forth by other members of the team were not equally valuable.


Disruption … Cognitive Diversity – What’s in the Middle?

By Guy Higgins

My noble editor sent me a link to an article, How To Identify The Most Dangerous Person In Your Company, recently. It’s a pretty good article and reminiscent of Robert Sutton’s book, The No Asshole Rule. The author discusses disruptive people – disruptive people are important today because they tend to introduce new ideas and changes. These are critical to organizations striving to stay relevant in a rapidly shifting world (you know, shift happens). The problem is that some people are disruptive and help the organization keep up with “the times,” but others are disruptive simply because they are jerks (Doctor Sutton’s “assholes”). Of course some people are both – jerks and sources of new ideas.

What is the relationship among people with these kinds of characteristics? Let’s take a look: Continue reading

Collaboration – Wither Leadership?

By Guy Higgins

Last week, I waxed eloquent (personal opinion) about collaboration. One major point I raised and emphasized at the end of the post was the importance of not allocating credit to individuals – and how darned contrary that is to our nature. We want to know “who” on the team, not just “the team.”

What does that mean for leaders and leadership? Do leaders get allocated to the scrap heap of history? Of course not – they’re the ones who get to do all the #%*&% hard stuff. What is that hard stuff? Let’s take a look. Continue reading