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3 Steps Associations Should Take to Increase Cognitive Diversity

As Millennials take over the professional world, ideas and assumptions surrounding diversity and inclusion continue to change. With this change comes increased company diversity resulting in better teamwork and overall company success.

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As Millennials take over the professional world, ideas and assumptions surrounding diversity and inclusion continue to change. With this change comes increased company diversity resulting in better teamwork and overall company success.

Along the way, cognitive diversity has become the focus of many diversity and inclusion campaigns. In a study done by the Harvard Business Review, teams with cognitive diversity outperformed those without twofold. And, it not only increases team success rates but also attracts the elusive Millennial population. Here's how.

What is cognitive diversity?

Until recently, diversity efforts have focused mainly on demographic inclusion like age, race, ethnicity, gender, and religion. These efforts have been to increase the number of different people with different backgrounds within a company or an association.

Cognitive diversity takes a step back from the physical differences and instead focuses on the mental differences of a team-- how people think about things. Or, the way they tackle the same problem in different ways. These are the types of things cognitive diversity focuses on.

According to Scott Page, cognitive diversity breaks down into four different categories: diverse perspectives, diverse interpretations, diverse heuristics, and diverse predictive models. We will discuss how these four categories make up the full picture of cognitive diversity. These categories break people down based on how they respond and interpret situations and problems. It comes down to people who see the glass half full or half empty and essentially how they then decide to fill up the rest of the glass.

Another way to look at it is that some people see the blues and purples in life while others focus on the reds and yellows. Increasing cognitive diversity means having different people on different sides of each of these spectrums working together. You want your members and your staff to be thinking about one problem differently and working together on it to find the best solution. If a group of people who all think similarly work together on one problem, they will all see the same solution. It's those who think differently who will see the other solutions and together they can decide which is best or which parts of either solution works well with other parts of another. Studies also show that when a group is cognitively diverse, problems get solved faster. Diversifying these areas of your association’s membership and staff can not only increase engagement and productivity but also increase Millennial interactions.

How does cognitive diversity attract Millennials?

Millennials pursue cognitively diverse environments. They’ve grown up expecting traditionally diverse environments. They are the most diverse generation yet, with only about 56% being Caucasian. Finding demographically diverse people in the same room with them is no big deal. Finding people with different ideas is.

In a study of Millennial workers, Millennials are 32% more likely to focus on respecting identities, 35% more likely to focus on unique experiences, and 29% more likely to focus on ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Millennials like to share ideas and work with the people around them. They want to be able to voice their opinions and ideas with coworkers on an even playing field. With a cognitively diverse environment, they find that their thoughts and suggestions are welcome and debated. Cognitive diversity fosters innovation, something that Millennials have proven interest in. It takes several people to perfect a good idea, with each bringing in new ways to solve oncoming problems. Bouncing ideas off of one another and then combining them is something Millennials have been doing all of their lives.

What does this mean for your association?

Most problems with cognitive diversity come from selecting people who think similarly to you. It’s a common reaction to not want to be around people who think differently or oppose you. But those are the people that are going to create a cognitively diverse environment and bring in new solutions. Your association’s members are all connected by one common thing. Whether your association is for a certain work field or for an age group, each member has a connection with another. But do they all think the same?

Most likely the answer is no. Each member is different for different reasons and has experienced different things. What your association needs to do is foster the already present cognitive diversity in its members.

How can your association foster cognitive diversity?

Simply having cognitive diversity is not enough. Without a little bit of structure, placing people who think differently together can lead to conflict. To avoid this, your association will need to act as a leader in cognitive diversity. Encourage your employees to bring in their own ideas about anything from non-dues revenue to member engagement. Strive to hear out different perspectives. Your association can also host events that promotes fostering cognitive diversity such as hosting team building activities and icebreakers at events. This will help people network and work with people they might not otherwise have the chance of meeting. The games can also bring out the differences in problem-solving among the people participating. Encourage people at events to share their thinking styles. You could do this simply by prompting them with a situation and asking people to share how they would tackle the problem.

At the end of the day, diversifying your association is crucial for continual growth. Following these steps can help your association achieve just that.