A powerful antidote to complexity is diversity (no, not Ashley Banjo’s dance troupe though he is an inspiring role model who espouse the namesake of his group in his artistic creations and pop culture influence…and it was great to see them on last night’s final of UK’s best produced talent show ‘Got To Dance’).

Too many ‘Diversity Officers’ in corporations exist not only to be a tick-in-the-box, but to execute a box ticking exercise. Those boxes are the usual categorizations of gender, race, religion, disability and sexual preference. But such pigeon holes are a shallow definition of diversity. There is not much point in corralling staff that tick these boxes if a prerequisite is to conform to their thinking and identity to a conventional norm. In the case, of race diversity, it is dubbed the ‘Oreo’ syndrome…people who are ‘black on the outside, but white on the inside.’

Michael J. Mauboussin exhorts in his HBR piece on Embracing Complexity

  • “I’m talking about cognitive diversity – how people think, their training, their experience, their personalities. Scott Page has shown that diverse groups are better at making predictions, for instance. Cognitive diversity – intentionally putting together different points of view that will challenge one another – is essential for hiring and building teams.”

Such an approach is a subtle variation on embracing failure in leadership and management. Conventional wisdom says hire the smartest people. ‘Complexity wisdom’ says consider hire some of less ‘best’. The people who may not tally the top scores in conventional measures, but nonetheless bring their own exceptionality to the team. It is classic portfolio management of blending a variety of assets which are strong in some respect, but might completely fail other litmus tests.