May 24, 2024

“diversity trumps ability”

Author: Harold Jarche
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High tolerance for ambiguity is a critical skill as we live and work in increasingly complex, networked environments. Navigating through turbulent times requires the ability to deal with ambiguity by seeking and making sense through a diverse network of connections of people and knowledge. The broader and deeper our connections, the better we can deal with ambiguity. The ability to Seek, Sense & Share in order to handle the complexity of the networked age is not a ‘nice-to-have’ optional approach to professional learning, it is a necessity. A diversity of connections and experiences increases our ability to deal with ambiguity.

[Associate Professor Andrea] Leung found that the advantages of living abroad accrue to those who are willing to adapt themselves to the ways of their host country: “The serendipitous creative benefits resulting from multicultural experiences,” she writes, “may depend on the extent to which individuals open themselves to foreign cultures.” This openness, she adds, includes a tolerance for ambiguity and open-endedness, a lack of closure and firm answers. —Time 2014-04-29

We have know this for a while. A 2004 report by RAND stated that, “Individuals who can exploit diversity to generate new knowledge about customers, suppliers, products, and services will be more likely to succeed in a competitive global environment”. To ensure diverse perspectives and the ability to deal with ambiguity, organizations have to relinquish control. As Dave Snowden notes, “The more you face uncertainty, the more inefficient your organisation needs to be, because that leaves room for resilience”. This is the challenge for all large organizations.

Diversity is our secret weapon to deal with complexity and ambiguity. In the book Future Perfect, Steven B. Johnson discusses the work of Scott E. Page who states that, “Diversity trumps ability”.

Take two groups of individuals and assign to each one some kind of problem to solve. One group has a higher average IQ than the other, and is more homogenous in its composition. One group, say, is all doctors with IQs above 130; the second group doesn’t perform as well on IQ tests, but includes a wide range of professions. What Page found, paradoxically, was that the diverse group was ultimately smarter than the smart group. The individuals in the high-IQ group might have scored better individually on intelligence tests, but when it came to solving problems as a group, diversity matters more than individual brainpower. —Future Perfect

Diversity is how we can become collectively smarter. Diversity is the foundation for creativity. There are no best practices for creativity, only unique practices, of which we need many. We need to stop looking for the next best practice and create our own emergent practices through our diverse connections. Therefore, organizations have to become knowledge networks. An effective knowledge network cultivates the diversity and autonomy of each worker. Those in leadership positions should foster deeper connections, developed through ongoing and meaningful conversations. These leaders know they are just nodes in the knowledge network and not a special position in a hierarchy. They ensure variety and diversity, not control.

I promote personal knowledge mastery as a way to develop diverse knowledge sources and human connections in order to deal with ambiguity and push at the boundaries of our professions. People practising PKM, in their own ways, add to the diversity of thinking in organizations and society. This is why a single PKM system — one size fits all — would kill diverse thinking, which in turn would destroy any potential for change or innovation.

PKM builds reflection into our learning and working, helping us adapt to change and new situations. It can also help develop critical thinking skills. The discipline of PKM helps each person become a contributing node in a knowledge network. It is the foundation for social learning. It does not matter what it is called, but seeking knowledge networks, active sense-making, and sharing publicly, are practices that need to be widespread. This is how we deal with ambiguity and complexity.

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