Diverse Groups Make Better Decisions

Homogeneity is bad for problem-solving.

Photo by Axel Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

If you’ve been following the controversy over Caleb Hannan’s essay on “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” you’ll find an important management lesson in Bill Simmons’ response to the controversy. At one point he writes:

I realized over the weekend that I didn’t know nearly enough about the transgender community – and neither does my staff.

See Christina Kahrl for much more on this particular piece but note that this is really a general issue. Nobody knows everything, and no group of people knows everything. But a peculiar attribute of homogeneous groups is that they can be unusually blind to what they don’t know. Conversely, if you read Scott Page’s book The Difference, you’ll see loads of evidence that while more diverse groups sometimes have more conflict and problems, they’re actually better at solving problems and working productively. Samuel Sommers has shown that racially diverse groups faced with decision-making tasks pay more attention and demonstrate better recall of relevant facts. Companies whose boards of directors contain more women show better performance in the stock market. And on it goes.

As best I can tell, the merits of diversity are in some ways directly linked to why people shy away from it. Homogeneous groups feel like they’re working more effortlessly and efficiently. Diverse groups are improving performance by slowing people down, making them aware of issues and angles they haven’t considered, and forcing them to pay more attention to detail. People from socially dominant groups are going to subjectively experience that as annoying and distracting:

But this “overriding” is how you avoid mistakes. Some things shouldn’t get done.