Diversity of Thought – What Is It & Why Does it Matter?

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Original Source: Newton Brown, Business Development Representative, ThisWay Global.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” — Albert Einstein

Here at ThisWay we’ve created technology that uses artificial intelligence to remove bias from the hiring process.  We consider ourselves champions of diversity and all of its attributes.  One of these attributes many often overlook is diversity of thought, which can often be one of the most beneficial components of a diverse office environment. One phenomenal illustration for how diversity of thought can bring innovation to your team is the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, also known as TRIZ

To understand the origins of TRIZ, one needs to cast their gaze back to Mother Russia in the days of the Gulag.  Not the height of creative expression or known for nurturing the drivers of invention and innovation, but even in this environment a Russian patent clerk created something new.  This man broke free from Lenin’s intellectual shackles of the mind by using his time in the labor camp to develop a theory of inventive problem solving – what is now known as TRIZ.

Genrich Altschuller, the originator of this glorious set of methods and principles, studied an enormous number of patents.  After discarding the vast majority, as most inventions turn out to be a modification or enhancement of other people’s inventions, he realized that only about 20% of inventions were truly ‘original’ ideas.  Looking deeper into this 20%, Altschuller noticed recurring themes. So consistent were these themes that he discovered that one could even reproduce the ingenuity consistent with creating these ‘original’ inventions. 

Mostly the invention themes boiled down to the resolution of one of forty contradictions, and one curious fact jumped out.  They almost always consisted of problems that had already been solved by someone else in a different space than where the invention itself resided.  This is what I see as the best case for a working group of individuals with diverse backgrounds and, most importantly, a Diversity of Thought.

As an example, did you know that diamonds can have two distinct types of a fracture?  There are the fractures that occur naturally and the fracturing that occurs when the diamonds are cut and refined.  The natural fractures are for the most part out of our control and cannot be prevented. The ones that occur during the cutting & refining processes are no longer a problem either.  At first, everyone in or around the diamond industry tried to develop means to prevent any consequential fracturing but to no avail. It ended up being someone from the farming and cooking industry that provided the solution to this problem. 

You see this problem had already been solved in another sector.  The solution came in an area quite different than diamonds: green peppers.  Food companies that sell peppers, need to split the peppers and remove their seeds.  Peppers are placed in a chamber where air pressure is increased significantly. The peppers then shrink and fracture at the stem.  Then the pressure is rapidly dropped causing them to burst at the weakest point and the seed pod to be ejected. A similar technique applied to diamond cutting resulted in the crystals splitting along their natural fracture lines with no additional damage. 

There are many other examples of solutions to problems being solved in an industry completely outside of one where the problem lies. For many years biologists believed that tubules in the human kidney were useless.  It wasn’t until an engineer familiar with ‘concurrent multipliers,’ a very specific type of engine, saw these tubules and made the connection between the tubules and these concurrent multipliers. This resulted in our perspective completely changing on the human body’s use of these tubules.  

An interesting pair of specialists invented a product for 3M that helped in preventing surgical infections. The unconventional couple consisted of a wound specialist and, get this, a Hollywood makeup artist, specifically one who was an expert in building out all manner of flesh wounds and ‘anomalies of the skin’ for horror movies.  For a decade, scientists have tried to understand the structure of an enzyme that is critical to the reproduction of the AIDS virus.  A video game developer created a game which let players actually ‘fold’ proteins,(apparently, proteins like to ‘fold’ in various ways) and this crowdsourcing method developed a solution to the issue within three weeks – all due to a fresh perspective on the problem called yes, diversity of thought.

These are a few highlights of how diversity of thought can lead to inventions and solutions that solve problems across different industries.  Yes, of course, we need to bring in employees from different races, ethnicities, genders, gender expressions, but let’s not overlook creed, religion, political ideology, sexual orientation, sexual identification and, perhaps of greatest importance for purposes of innovation industry, background to create a true diversity of thought environment in every office.

ThisWay Global is an international, VC backed HR tech company that was incubated at ideaSpace, University of Cambridge, UK, with new offices now in the US. ThisWay’s team is comprised of experienced entrepreneurs, global PhDs in the areas of machine learning and AI, as well as talented Millennials from across the globe.

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