This past weekend I attended a conference for heads of school and trustees where I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Scott Page about his most recent research on diversity from his latest book: The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy. I learned a great deal. Page is a professor of complex systems, economics, and political science at the University of Michigan, so he comes at diversity from an atypical perspective. His findings are based on a rigorous analysis of research in the areas of economics, psychology, computer science, and other fields, all with a focus on the impact of diversity on business teams.
His conclusions are powerful, and essentially boil down to two insights that he refers to as "diversity bonuses,"and are applicable to any team or group team involved in complex tasks. The first has to do with cognitive diversity—bringing together individuals from different intellectual and thinking backgrounds and strengths. For example, when creating a team to solve the problem of traffic, the research shows that a team comprised of the best traffic engineers will most likely not come up with the best and most elegant solution. On the other hand, a team made up of diverse thinkers—traffic engineers, social scientists, historians, artists, and Lyft drivers—will have better results than the homogeneous group of traffic engineers. Cognitive diversity requires intention in putting teams together.
The second finding is the inclusion of diverse identities on teams. This includes variables like age, gender, race, religion, ableness, economic status, sexual orientation, and nationality. The bonus here, similar to yet different from cognitive diversity, comes from the variety of perspectives that a person holds as a result of their personal history. In other words, the way they see and experience the world.
The bottom line is that when dealing with complex issues or problems, the best teams are comprised of members who are great thinkers from multiple fields and who represent a wide range of diverse identities. This designed diversity in teams offers a bonus in both cognitive and identity diversity, which leads to better overall results.
Personally, Page's talk was perfect timing as it prefaced yesterday's Diversity Day on the East Campus. Again and again, as I listened to speakers, panelists, and discussions among students, I observed how their diverse identities and perspectives made for richer and deeper conversations and insights between our students. One of the more significant changes we have made to this day over the last few years is the addition of time for students, within the familiarity of their advising groups, to process and debrief what they experience in the various presentations. In this regard, our student groups are able to benefit from their own diversity bonuses.
Finally, if you have a Middle or Upper School student, find a time over the weekend to gently query (maybe even prod) about this year's Diversity Day.
Have a great weekend.