Can't Separate the Cognitive from Diversity: #TChat Recap

“You and I, we are pressed into these solitudes
Color and culture, language and race
Just variations on a theme
Islands in a much larger stream
For you and me — Race is not a competition
For you and me — Race is not a definition
For you and me — We agree
Reaching for the alien shore…”

–Neil Peart, Rush (“Alien Shore” from Counterparts)

That’s usually the first thing we think of when we hear the word “diversity,” or lack thereof. It’s either that, or stereotypical gender, age, physical or mental abilities and limitations.

We default to these without giving much thought to thought, or our cognitive diversity. According to diversity expert Joe Gerstandt, cognitive diversity is becoming critical to the success of our organizations, yet it still has not received much serious attention (like emotional intelligence). “Regardless of the organization or industry, decision making, problem solving and innovation are increasingly important competencies and opportunities for competitive advantage and all of these things are all fed by cognitive diversity.”

The most cognitively diverse group I’ve ever hired, trained and managed, were university students (and of course, the most racially and culturally diverse as well). They were hired to make high-pressure fundraising calls for San Jose State University’s academic programs and general fund. It was tough work. Thankfully there was a candidate pool of 30,000 students to source from because turnover was high semester to semester.

Identifying the right talent who had the magic “no fear” ability to get alumni, parents and friends of the university to donate during a 5-10 minute phone call was critical. The ones who fared the best were among the most socially outgoing, inventive, adaptive on the phones, and at times highly combative with me, the management. Cognitive diversity certainly didn’t mean hand-holding consensus. However, some of the best fundraising ideas came from this subset. I felt like everyday I was drinking different flavors of thought Kool-Aid and we came up with tasty new ones that improved the why of what we did.

Of course my own personal biases affected my hiring decisions at the time, but I always had the attitude that, “I’m not going to hire you just because you’re [blank].” Either you’re helping me raise the money for the university, or you’re not. That’s about as diverse as it got. And for the most part throughout my careers, every time I’ve attempted to build (and sell) a better mousetrap I’ve always wanted smart, unique folk all around me who know how to build (and sell). That means challenge and push and pull and innovate and excel. That means cognitive diversity.

But then something happened towards the end of #TChat last night as we wound down the diversity questions. Someone wrote:

“A lot of white people talking up diversity on #TChat – I don’t see a lot of diversity though, just white folks tweeting…”

An interesting sidebar began that came down to our experiences by race. For example, I was told that the workplace challenges I’ve faced are nothing compared to those of people of color (for example). I wrote that I understood, but considering the year I’ve had, I wasn’t so sure any more.

Then I was told, “My friend, consider this. You have experienced this for the first time. My whole life has been like that.”

And then I wrote, “Thank you. This is why I do what I do. I am not you, and you are not me, but maybe we can make a difference?”

This was when consensus made all the difference in the world. I came full circle and realized you really can’t separate cognitive diversity from the rest of the person’s context and subjective experiences. It’s all what makes us individually whole.

This is the world we live and work in. Together. For better or for worse. Amen.

“For you and me — Race is not a competition
For you and me — Race is not a definition
For you and me — We agree
Reaching for the alien shore…”

Thank you everyone again for participating last night! Did I tell you we’re launching #TChat radio on July 26? More soon!

You can read the great preview post by Joe Gerstandt. Here were last night’s questions:

  • Q1: What Does “Diversity” Mean to You in 140 Characters or Less?
  • Q2: What role does diversity plan in an employer’s bigger talent picture?
  • Q3: Has anything changed about the way employers and employees look at diversity?
  • Q4: How can organizations benefit from building and maintaining a diverse workforce?
  • Q5: What are some of the biggest myths or misconceptions about diversity in today’s workplace?
  • Q6: What role should leaders play in diversity and inclusion?
  • Q7: Does diversity still matter in today’s world of work?  What’s t
    he future of diversity look like?