Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Cognitive diversity

There was an interesting weekend essay by Matthew Syed in The Times a couple of days ago about  cognitive diversity with the title

"The truth is that great minds don't think alike."

The point he was making is that if you are assembling a team of people to do a job then in the vast majority of  cases - with a few exceptions such as a relay racing team - the way to get the most effective team is to include a mix of different abilities and skills.

The essay gives as an example of when this approach was used particularly successfully of the Bletchley Park codebreaking team which broke the Enigma codes. As well as great mathematical minds like Alan Turing the team at Bletchley was deliberately set up to include other type of thinkers, both men and women, and people with non-mathematical skills including people with skills such as doing crosswords. This intellectually diverse team was better able to crack the codes and get inside the heads of the German Enigma operators by coming at the problem from different angles.

I presume this is what the PM's senior advisor, Dominic Cummings meant when he suggested that Number Ten wants to recruit - "super-talented weirdos" - a strategy which will of course work better if it means moving away from a stereotype of what kind of person they do and do not want to recruit than it will if it means replacing one stereotype with a different one.

The comment from Thomas Sowell about asking academics how many Conservatives there are in their sociology department which was my quote of the day yesterday morning will usually have been interpreted as a joke or as a dig at the left. But actually it makes a serious point. Diversity of ideas is a great strength in most teams.

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