Diversity and creativity: the link is not as simple as we think

A good summary of a study that is more nuanced than most in the link between diversity and creativity.

Of particular note is how the benefits of diversity are greatest in innovation, less so in implementation. And that personality diversity is likely more important than demographic diversity.

Some good leadership pointers in how to manage diverse work forces:

It has become customary to assume that diversity increases creativity. But Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London and a faculty member at Columbia University, says the link is not as simple as we think.

Yes, teams with a diverse composition generate a wider range of original and useful ideas. But experimental studies suggest those benefits disappear when the team turns its attention to implementation, deciding which ideas to select and act upon, presumably because diversity hinders consensus.

He writes in Harvard Business Review that an analysis of 108 studies and more than 10,000 teams “indicated that the creativity gains produced by higher team diversity are disrupted by the inherent social conflict and decision-making deficits that less homogeneous teams create. It would therefore make sense for organizations to increase diversity in teams that are focused on exploration or idea generation, and use more-homogeneous teams to curate and implement those ideas.”

He adds that for all the talk about the importance of creativity, the critical activity is innovation – implementing creative ideas. “Most organizations have a surplus of creative ideas that are never implemented, and more diversity is not going to solve this problem,” he says.

Other factors to consider:

  • Good leadership helps. It can assist a team in overcoming the conflicts flowing from diversity. A key is to help members understand other people’s perspectives rather than fixating on their own individual agendas.Too much diversity is problematic. We might assume that the relationship between creativity and diversity is linear. But that appears to not be true and a moderate degree of diversity is more beneficial than a higher dose.


  • Psychology outweighs demography: While we tend to focus on gender, age and racial diversity, the most interesting and influential aspects are the psychological elements of diversity, such as personality, values and abilities. Those are the powerful factors to be alert to.


  • Knowledge sharing is key. For diversity to enhance creativity, a culture of sharing knowledge should be in place. “Studies mapping the social networks of organizations have found higher levels of creativity in groups that are more interconnected, particularly when creative and intrapreneurial individuals are a central node in those networks,” he writes.


  • Cynics are persuadable. He says diversity training is actually most effective with individuals who are skeptical of it. Of course, the challenge is to get them on board for training.


  • Other factors than diversity are more powerful in boosting creativity. He says analysis has found that vision, task orientation, support for innovation and external communication are the strongest determinants of creativity and innovation. Team composition and structure have much less impact.


Certainly diversity is nice for organizations to have. But he insists that if your actual goal is to enhance creativity, there are simpler, more effective solutions than boosting diversity.

Source: Diversity and creativity: the link is not as simple as we think – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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