A great article appeared in a recent Guardian newspaper on the topic of diversity and why it keeps your brain active. The author, Professor Richard Crisp from the Aston Business School, in fact likens the benefits to the brain of living in a multicultural society to the benefits to our bodies of a daily run; when we encounter diversity, this keeps the brain fit, strengthens its resilience and robustness, and we are enabled to think more creatively and innovatively as a result. It is an interesting and empowering perspective, and certainly one worthy of further exploration in relation to all aspects of our social and professional lives.
Professor Crisp’s research reveals that the brain behaves – unsurprisingly – in the same way, physiologically, as the rest of the human body. In practice, this means that it does not particularly like hard work, even though hard work is good for it. When everything in the world around is homogenous – ie simple and neatly structured – then the brain does not have to exercise itself as much as it does when it encounters fluidity and diversity. These ‘messier’ concepts challenge the brain’s rather lazy tendencies to want to have everything ordered and in a defined place, and it has to work harder to incorporate them into its understanding of the world. In doing so, it strengthens its ability to open itself to greater creativity and innovative ideas – in this case, as in so many others, hard work really does pay off.
What is good for the brain is good for the person; what is good for the person is good for the team. Diversity in teams makes a real difference to productive thinking, as people have to face the challenge of dealing with different perspectives. This was identified as far back as 1999 in research at Stanford, which exposed that people in diverse teams, in dealing with one another, are made to deliberate more, clarifying issues, seeking the fundamental common ground, and finding shared and mutually acceptable solutions which are often not the solutions they expected at the outset. This, of course, is creative thinking in action.
Diversity may be hard work, but it really makes a difference when it is embraced, from the family to the boardroom. It follows, therefore, that the more we can speak up about diversity and spread the word, the more exciting, creative and productive we will all be.