Please be different but not too different

on March 21 | in THNK | by | with No Comments

At THNK we put much thought into creative team selection or, as we call it, “casting the creative clash”. We strive for a lot of diversity, but not all diversity works. And then there’s homogeneity. Because being somewhat similar can be helpful too!

To maximize team creativity, what type of diversity would you seek when forming your teams – and where do you want homogeneity? Here’s a top 3 for both categories.

Diversity #1: Background We know creative solutions often come from combining different and previously unrelated ideas, so we want as much diversity in background as we can get. Such as differences in culture, experience and training. So, for example, an Indian HR-exec from the steel industry, a Brazilian soccer journalist and a Dutch landscape architect might make an interesting team.

Diversity #2: Ways of thinking Regardless of background, people can differ in their patterns of thinking, feeling and reacting to their environment. For instance, do they constantly look for facts, or enjoy dreaming up general themes – or do they make decisions based on logical reasoning or how things feel to them?

These differences are usually referred to as personality type differences. In general, the more variety a team has the better it can deal with a variety of circumstances – a phenomenon known as “requisite variety”. In creative teamwork, having a mix is crucial because different strengths are needed for the different phases of the creative process. If everyone’s a dreamer, nothing will get done!

Diversity #3: Demographics Gender and age influence one’s outlook. Unless you are creating something for a specific audience, demographic diversity will broaden your base and thus enable a higher outcome.

And for something completely similar… As the tower-builders in Babel know, too much diversity can hamper proceedings. So lets look at which factors you would want homogeneity in, rather than diversity.

Homogeneity #1: Language You want people from all over, but they need to be able to communicate face-to-face. You simply can’t get past having a common language or your tower won’t get off the ground.

Homogeneity #2: Ability to have constructive conflict Brian Uzzi’s study of the teams working on Broadway musicals revealed an interesting issue. Output suffered if there were too few new people on a team. And it also suffered when there were too many new people. His conclusion was that both too much familiarity as well as too little familiarity lessened the degree to which team-members challenged each other’s ideas – and with that, decreased the quality of the output. So you want homogeneity in the ability to constructively speak up and challenge each other’s ideas.

Homogeneity #3: Values Too great a diversity in values may distract from the job at hand. And you not only need homogeneity in work ethic (one slacker can bring a whole team down) – you should probably try to achieve a high average score. After all, putting in the miles still goes a long way, even in creative work.

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