Issue Number 27: Leadership: Making Differences Work for You

Each of us is different, one from the other. We always have been and we always will be. So why do we continue to use our differences to build walls instead of bridges? It takes the same amount of effort to build a bridge as it does to build a wall, but once a wall is built it takes a lot more effort to go over it.

Racial, ethnic, generational and educational differences have received a good deal of well-deserved attention. One of the differences which has not received as much attention, and which cuts across all of the others, is cognitive differences, often referred to as cognitive diversity. These two flamingoes may look alike to you, but they clearly differ on the interpretation of a key epistemological construct.

According to Scott Page, author of The Difference, cognitive diversity describes differences in the way people see, categorize, understand, and go about improving the world. Cognitive diversity is not as easily recognizable as other kinds of diversity, which makes working with someone who sees the world in a way that differs from yours much more challenging.

It can be hard work. It can stretch you both mentally and emotionally. You may wonder why the other person, who appears in every other way to be “normal,” does not see something that is perfectly obvious to you, or why he is taking a different route to arrive at the same conclusion. You may even wonder how he can function with such a warped view of reality.

Before you become too full of yourself, consider this – he is probably thinking the same thing about you.

If both of you can get past that internal conversation, there is some great news. Scott Page demonstrates that a group of cognitively diverse ordinary people who work well together are often capable of solving difficult problems better than a group of like-minded experts.

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