Where Do You Keep The Ketchup?
Have you have struggled with the diversity vs. skill debate when building and working in teams? I know I have, along with countless Human Resource managers.
Why can teams find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone? And why are the best group decisions and predictions those that draw upon the qualities that make each of us unique? The answers lie in diversity: not what we look like outside, but what we look like within, our distinct tools and abilities.
On a recent Reply All podcast, a form of diversity unrelated to race, gender or age was discussed: the diversity of thought. It turns out diversity of thought may be the most important factor a team faces with solving problems. Unfortunately, as Lauren Rivera from the Kellogg School of Management points out in her research, managers like to hire people like themselves, leading to little diversity of all sorts in the workplace.
Scott Page, Professor of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan, has been researching the diversity of thought for years. He highlighted much of his research in his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. It turns out diversity of thought is even more important than all other types of diversity. His research discovered groups that display a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. Diversity in a team yields superior outcomes and collective wisdom exceeds the sum of its parts.
Moving beyond the politics that cloud standard debates about diversity, he explains why difference beats out homogeneity, whether you are talking about citizens in a democracy or scientists in the laboratory. Scott says that in real-world experiments, when faced with a hard problem, a diverse team gets better results than a team of experts from a similar way of thinking.
Scott says language, age, geography, and personal hardship, they all inform how we solve problems in these crazy subtle ways. He uses an example of a simple but effective way to point out diversity of thoughts: where do we keep our ketchup? It turns out, based on your parents’ heritage, you either keep the ketchup in the cupboard or in the fridge. Clearly both think they are right but what does this have to do about problem solving?
Well, it actually does matter in the case you run out of ketchup. On the podcast Scott shares that if you’re British or if you’re African American from the South, not as a rule but generally speaking, you’re likely to keep your ketchup in the cupboard. If you’re not British and you’re not African American from the South, you tend to keep your ketchup in the fridge.
He goes on to state, “If you are out of ketchup and you are a ‘ketchup in the fridge’ person, what are you going to use? Well you might use mayonnaise. You might use mustard because those are things you think of when what’s next to the ketchup. If, alternatively, you are a ‘ketchup in the cupboard’ person and you run out ketchup, what’s next to the ketchup in the cupboard? Well, malt vinegar.”
So, the more diverse the backgrounds, the more associations you get, and the more paths towards solving a hard problem.
I chuckled when I first heard this as my wife and I had the same ketchup debate when we moved in together. My family with its long delineated British / Irish heritage always kept the ketchup in the cupboard and my wife with her Western Canadian / Ukrainian heritage always kept the ketchup in the fridge. That was 6 years ago. Could you guess where the ketchup is kept nowadays? In the fridge, which takes up a lot of room when you buy your ketchup at Costco, I might add.
Besides the ‘Ketchup question’, another simple question you can ask colleagues and interviewees to get a quick gage on their ‘thought diversity’ compared to yours is “How did you get here?” Not literally but figuratively, how they got to where they are now, selected for an interview or their title at a company or position on a team.
Action: This week, do a little thought diversity inventory of your team. If you don’t know, ask the people on your team “how they got there” or “where they keep the ketchup”. Give your team a score from 1 to 10 and if below 7, think of ways to add more people with thought diversity to your team and areas where your current level of thought diversity may be limiting your team’s problem solving ability.
Until next week… Embrace the Adventure
Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author, Ironman competitor, and expedition guide.
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