Does Diversity Actually Increase Creativity?

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Setting aside social, political, and moral reasons for encouraging a more diverse workplace, there is arguably no better incentive for promoting diversity than the premise that diverse teams and organizations are more creative. But is there actually any evidence in support of this idea? And if there is, do the potential gains in creativity produced by diversity come at the expense of interpersonal harmony and team cohesion? Here are seven findings from science:

[Here are three.]

There’s a difference between generating ideas and implementing ideas. While diverse team composition does seem to confer an advantage when it comes to generating a wider range of original and useful ideas, experimental studies suggest that such benefits disappear once the team is tasked with deciding which ideas to select and implement, presumably because diversity hinders consensus. A meta-analysis of 108 studies and more than 10,000 teams indicated that the creativity gains produced by higher team diversity are disrupted by the inherent social conflict and decision-making deficits that less homogeneous teams create. It would therefore make sense for organizations to increase diversity in teams that are focused on exploration or idea generation, and use more-homogeneous teams to curate and implement those ideas. This distinction mirrors the psychological competencies associated with the creative process: divergent thinking, openness to experience, and mind wandering are needed to produce a large number of original ideas, but unless they are followed by convergent thinking, expertise, and effective project management, those ideas will never become actual innovations. For all the talk about the importance of creativity, the critical piece is really innovation. Most organizations have a surplus of creative ideas that are never implemented, and more diversity is not going to solve this problem.

Good leadership helps. The conflicts arising from diversity can be mitigated if teams are effectively led. This is hardly surprising: leadership is a fundamental resource for groups and organizations. It is the psychological process that enables individuals to set aside their selfish agendas to cooperate with others for the common benefit of the team, articulating the natural tension between our desire to get ahead of others and our need to get along with others. All of this is particularly important when teams are diverse, for it will be harder for team members to see things from other members’ perspectives, empathize with them, and suppress their own conscious and unconscious biases.

Too much diversity is problematic. Most studies assume that the relationship between diversity and creativity is linear, but recent evidence suggests that a moderate degree of diversity is more beneficial than a higher dose. This finding is consistent with the too-much-of-a-good-thing paradigm in management science, which provides compelling evidence for the idea that even the most desirable qualities have a dark side if taken to the extreme. In other words, all things are good in moderation (except moderation).

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, and a faculty member at Columbia University. Find him on Twitter  @drtcp or here. His next book is The Talent Delusion.

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