The Skills Needed to Achieve Diversity of Thought

In today’s increasingly diverse workplace, the potential for extraordinary creativity, innovation and performance is unlimited. These characteristics expand new possibilities through diversity of thought, the ability to explore creative, innovative and inclusive responses to problems.

The skills associated with this competency include:

Openness: Brain research suggests that people only have 5 to 20 percent conscious awareness of why they react to moment-to-moment experiences. Therefore, the essential step in suspending judgment involves an inner reflection of one’s own opinions in comparison to others, leading a person to be more open to new ideas.

The behaviors involved in suspending judgment include becoming aware of one’s own opinion, particularly when dealing with differences; reflecting on the belief that one’s opinion of the situation is correct; learning to listen to others’ opinions and reflecting on the pros and cons of each; and becoming a proponent of integrating, improving or accepting others’ ideas and opinions.

Knowledge: Most people’s normal tendency is to associate with people, cultures and experiences similar to their own. The source of this behavior is probably that they feel safe and secure within their system of beliefs. Yet it’s natural to explore differences, because such experiences have the potential to expand a base of knowledge and the view of reality.

The behaviors involved in exploring differences include experiencing different cultures by immersion rather than observing and stating opinions; associating in both formal and informal ways with co-workers, friends and acquaintances; and using professional travel to engage others in informal conversations about their culture and lifestyle.

Mastery: One of the most obvious manifestations of diversity of thought is the ability to create diverse solutions, ideas and insights. From an individual perspective, this process involves discovering and mastering one’s own creative process and expressing that insight in an innovative way.

The behaviors involved with mastering one’s unique creative ability include continually expanding one’s knowledge base through the processes discussed in exploring differences; programming one’s creative consciousness during the day for the creative insight sought, using a one-line request for the desired solution; making a note of when “creative downloads” are commonly experienced; programming the download to coincide with one’s natural creative trigger and its corresponding event; and practicing this sequence until it is naturally mastered.

Receptivity: It’s inevitable that an idea, solution or possibility is encountered that exceeds one’s finite view of reality. This is an indication that someone has bumped against one of the walls of his or her reality — typically expressed as disbelief.

What’s important to understand is that because one doesn’t believe something does not mean it does not exist. And if it does exist, then whatever it is, is unavailable to that person. Personal transformation is discovering and invalidating such self-limiting beliefs.

Activity: Engaging differences involves the proactive process of seeking out differences with the active intent of becoming more inclusive in one’s thinking. People begin to invalidate the polarities they have about wrong and right ways of viewing others, processes and performance. Most of all, they begin — mostly unconsciously — to release judgments about themselves. One of the most powerful processes for engaging differences is the comprehensive implementation of diverse, multicultural teaming, both formal and informal.

The best way to design this teaming process is by establishing the extent to which certain diversity skills, abilities and experiences are required for a given project and designing a diversity matrix profile of critical competencies, selecting the best team members for the project from the established diversity matrix.

Engaging differences means adopting a mindset that differences are an inherent part of the human experience that provides the basis for understanding and compatibility in whatever activity one might engage, whereas exploring differences is focused on accumulating a diverse knowledge base. The two are related but not identical.

Diversity of thought is one of the most powerful creative, innovative and transforming areas of diversity, inclusion and high performance. Mastering the five integrated skills outlined here ensures an individual’s ability to be successful in a diverse, multicultural world.

William A. Guillory is the founder of consulting firm Innovations International Inc. and author of “Empowerment for High-Performing Organizations.” Daniel S. Guillory is the CEO and vice president of new business development and general counsel of Innovations International. They can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.