When Scott Page speaks to groups about diversity, he starts with what his conception of diversity is not: it’s not a lofty ambition on a company’s mission statement, nor is it a stepping stone on the path to social justice — although these are worthy motivations, he says.
For Page, diversity — a certain kind of diversity, done right — comes with bona fides in the form of a bonus, an advantage, an extra…and yes, often of the monetary variety.
An SFI External Professor and Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan, Page wrote the book on the logic of group diversity a decade ago (The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies). Since then, he’s become a noted consultant and speaker on the topic.
His new book, The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy (Princeton University Press, September 2017), takes the case a step further, meticulously tracing a causative path to the tangible benefits that emerge when people possessing a variety of “cognitive repertoires” come together to think, solve, and create.
“Diversity bonuses, when they exist, do so on complex, high-dimensional tasks: solving a problem, predicting an outcome, designing a policy, evaluating a proposed merger, or undertaking research,” he writes.
A person’s cognitive repertoire is her unique thinking toolbox that includes information, knowledge, heuristics, representations, and mental models, Page says. He notes that cognitive diversity differs from identity diversity, which arises from a person’s gender, race, sexual orientation, and other demographics, though identity diversity can and often does augment a person’s cognitive repertoire.
Most simply, in Page’s logic, selecting candidates who are each gifted with the greatest number of cognitive tools might not form the best overall team for a task, especially if the selectees’ toolsets overlap; the better team often includes members with potentially smaller, but nonredundant, repertoires, which offers a greater number of assets to draw from.
Page takes the reader through the ample empirical evidence for diversity’s advantages, the extant science of group problem-solving and collective prediction, and the existing theoretical frameworks that underlie his hypothesis.
He includes plenty of real-world examples of diverse-group advantage, from the massively collective winning solution to the Netflix Prize to the successes of famed songwriter Martin Sandberg, whose team has written nearly as many number-one Billboard hits as frontrunners Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
Finally, he notes, the diversity bonus is most pronounced when we engage in “cognitive nonroutine tasks,” just like those many more of us are facing as contributors in the knowledge economy.
Read the review in The Washington Post (September 28, 2017)
Watch a video interview with Scott Page, by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (September 29, 2017)