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Cognitive diversity – solving painful problems

I’m sure all of us can think of a time where we’ve been confronted with a complex problem that is hard to solve and there is no clear path forward. The politicians forming a new government here in the UK will certainly have their hands full in this regard and they don't seem to be hanging about in addressing them.

Over the weekend Kier Starmer announced the appointment of James Timpson, CEO of the Timpson Group as his new Prisons Minister. I cheered with delight. You’re sure to have seen a Timpsons on your high street or outside your local supermarket here in the UK. They’re an organisation I admire. They do things differently. James Timpson is quoted as saying:

“Our simple approach to business involves picking colleagues with personality and trusting them with the freedom to do their job, their way. We call it ‘Upside Down Management’”.

So, hearing that he is going to be involved in shaping policy on a topic as important as prisons is reassuring. He’s someone who is prepared to think about and do things differently.

This announcement got me thinking about thinking, about some of the big problems that need solving, and how hard that can be.

Sometimes what you need in these situations is time and space to think. Research shows that something as simple as a warm shower can be a powerful tool in your toolbox! In that moment, when the warm water is engulfing us, we become disconnected from what we were thinking about. Suddenly, there is space for your brain to do its thing. It’s flushed with alpha waves apparently, and this enables it to make and find connections and links that we hadn’t made before (Kounios and Beeman, 2014). Insight, lightbulb or a-ha moments that have evaded us spring from out of the blue.

Sometimes though, you need to get analytical and evaluative. This means drawing on a cluster of behaviours we at GFB refer to as ‘Thinks’. If you’re using these behaviours you’re; gathering information; asking questions; researching, and investigating. Perhaps you are sourcing data and opinion only relating to the task at hand - but if you look more broadly and deeply, you’re able to draw on a richer network of information to help form ideas.

This latter form of information seeking leads to a more comprehensive understanding, providing more opportunity to find multiple relevant and possible solutions.

Once you’ve got your list of possibilities you need to hold them up to scrutiny. Turn and twist them as though they are diamonds and you’re looking for their flaws. Seek to understand the pros, cons, risks and benefits. Those who really excel at this behaviour often amalgamate possibilities to create powerful solutions that transform how we do things.

Of course, the most impactful and transformative solutions have very rarely been thought up by just one individual. Back in 2017, Reynolds and Lewis wrote in the Harvard Business Review about teams that solve problems faster when they are cognitively diverse. We’re hearing this concept mentioned more and more frequently by organisations that want to bring ‘outside in thinking’ and ‘fresh blood’ into their teams.

We’re asked to explore this by clients when they’re recruiting and developing their people. At GFB we do this through tried and tested measures, such as personality assessments and interviews, that enable us to explore an individual’s preferred thinking style.   By example our new Leadership Potential Report has been designed to give insight into individual and team cognitive diversity by relating common personality traits to our ‘Thinks’ behaviours. We can use this to help teams understand their strengths and weaknesses, and the crucial differences between individuals that they can harness to their benefit.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help your organisation understand it’s cognitive diversity potential, or to request a sample of our new Leadership Potential Report, please get in touch - email or call us on +44 (0) 333 090 2580.



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