Defining and Harnessing Plurality of Thought for the Digital Age

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Beyond and different from physical identity diversity, it is plurality of thought that must be cultivated and promoted within today's far-sighted organizations. We offer an analysis and roadmap for instilling plurality of thought on the individual, team and corporate levels.
  Dening and Harnessing Plurality of Thought for the Digital Age To win in the emerging digital economy, progressive companies worldwide must look beyond diversity of personal identity and tap the creative and sometimes contrarian views of individuals across the organization and beyond to spur innovation, differentiation and sustainable advantage.  2   KEEP CHALLENGING November 2014 Executive Summary To create a more inclusive order, emphasis is rightly laid on the plurality of identities – be they racial, gender or otherwise. While that’s a good starting point, we believe that the journey to a more inclusive order will be complete only by achieving real diversity of thought. This is critical because to win in the emerging fully digital world companies must not only rewire their hard operating infrastructure but also reimagine ways to tap plural thoughts and think and act innovatively to build sustainable competitive advantage. How so?    By focusing only on the physical dimension of inclusion, namely gender, race and sexual orientation, we may miss the more profound and subtle dimension of thought.    Winning, innovative companies are adopting a mindset of problem solving.  Unencumbered by the baggage of conventional wisdom and compartmentalized academic thinking, many companies seek out solutions by breaking boundaries. For example, GE tapped numerous great minds globally to solve a jet engine design challenge (see page 7 for more).    Plural thinking has less to do with IQ and more to do with orientation.  It is akin to building an open source operating system that can play with any software on any device. It is a state of mind that can be cultivated through training.  DEFINING AND HARNESSING PLURALITY OF THOUGHT FOR THE DIGITAL AGE 3   This white paper lays out an agenda for business leaders looking to nur-ture plurality of thought in their organizations. It presents a variety of cross-disciplinary case studies on how individuals and institutions put plural thought into action. In our view, successful organizations ensure that plurality of thought takes root at all levels, from senior leaders to managers and individual employees. Our analysis identies blinders – received wisdom, cognitive biases and institutional biases – that cause diversity and plurality of thought to be neglected in the workplace. The words of Bertrand Russell, “The chains of habits are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken,” are appropriate in this context. To break the chains of bad habit, indi-viduals need to practice nurturing and advancing the cause of plurality.  4   KEEP CHALLENGING November 2014 Creating a Plural Identity A diverse set of visible identities – such as race, gender and age – are promoted within today’s progressive companies. While this is a necessary starting point, we believe it is insufcient to truly advance the cause of diversity. The rapidly chang -ing demographic mix within the U.S., and the exponential growth of the virtual, connected workforce worldwide, will soon make representation of plural identities a default phenomenon and a critical prerequisite for sustainable success. The focus will then shift to diverse perspectives and contrarian points of view. Plural Thought Defned The ancient Rig Vedic hymn, Ekam Sat Vipr  ā  ha Bahudh ā   Vadanti   (truth is one and the wise call it by many names), underscores the plural order of thought. 1  Harnessing and nourishing plurality of thought – the essence of diverse identities – to innovate and solve complex problems is a crucial but often overlooked task for business leaders. The critical questions confronting businesses: Are they ready to tap plural thoughts and the alternative perspectives that diversity of identities brings? Do plural identities automatically usher in plural thought? We examine this idea by asking:   Why does plural thought matter?   What should we do to nurture plural thought? Why Plurality of Thought Matters We have identied two recent phenomena that illustrate how plural thought is assisting more evolved organizations to excel in today’s globally interconnected economy. First, we examine how contrarian thinking, a key dimension of plural thought, helped India avoid the 2008 banking crisis. Then we evaluate how plural thinking is helping GE innovatively solve design problems. 2008 Banking Crisis What if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters? 2  Would that have resulted in a different outcome for that rm? Ever since the 2008 nancial crisis, this gender-angled probe has engaged bright minds in academia, media and nancial institutions. While interesting perspectives have been advanced for both sides of the argument, we argue that moving away from the binary gender-centric discourse will support richer meaning-making.One school in this debate posits women as more conservative and risk-averse. Therefore, more women [in the nancial sector] = less self-interested greed = less imprudent risk = more solid asset values = healthier balance sheets. However, empirical research shows that female managers are not necessarily more risk-averse than men, and that female directors did not engage in fewer risk-taking activities around the crisis, and did not have lower risk than male-led banks. 3, 4 While gender is a marker, what about other potentially more relevant factors such as schooling, values, role in the high-pressure banking environment, stakeholder interests, etc. that shape an individual’s worldview and actions? In that larger context, gender hardly seems to be a material driver of actions. From a gender-neutral perspective, the alternative questions are:   What if the Lehman Brothers and Sisters had been schooled in alternative schools of nance and economics?
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