being smart together

Are We Being Smart Together?

Megumi Miki, a Quietly Powerful Woman shares with us a thought provoking piece on being conscious around inclusion and collaboration.

Having worked with many teams, I have come across many with very smart people who are not very smart together

Leaders often scratch their heads wondering why they cannot be smart together when each of them are so smart. It can be easier to be smart on your own. You have control over what you read, learn, what you remember and apply. It’s so much easier to be with your own thoughts and ideas, because no one is going to disagree with you.

But there’s a limit being smart on your own. Matt Church’s article Reading Reinvented refers to statistics which suggest that there are about 3000 books published a day – perhaps more. We can only read and absorb so much.

Plenty of research indicates that diversity of thought makes us smarter and lift performance

The article How diversity makes us smarter in The Scientific American shares research that shows the effect of having people who are different to us on our ability to think creatively. The key lesson “This is how diversity works: by promoting hard work and creativity; by encouraging the consideration of alternatives even before any interpersonal interaction takes place.”

So it makes sense to tap into others wisdom and knowledge. But this only works if there is willingness to openly share information, have disagreements and work through them rather than shut them down.

How often have you seen people, or at times, yourself:

– not listening to others because it doesn’t fit with your views or beliefs

– being attached to or even evangelical about your own views or ways of doing things

– being defensive about our views when others disagree

– doing all the talking

– not seeking to understand or ask any questions

– not inviting contributions from people with the minority/unpopular views or quieter voices

– holding back from contributing in fear of looking stupid

– not disagreeing when you should, to avoid conflict

– just going along with the majority, worrying about what others think of you

Being smart together is the smart thing to do but it’s not the easiest thing to do!

As a leader, building teams and organisations with a diverse range of people that are smart together gives you a major competitive advantage.

As women working together to make progress in gender diversity, being smart together is an accelerator . But is it happening? We should also be thinking about diversity within women, too, to make us smarter. Think about women who are of a different ethnicity, extrovert/introvert, rational/emotional, structured/unstructured, women with different sexual orientation etc.

So what do we need to do to be smart together?

What we need is the ability to create both divergence and convergence within groups. Divergence is having diversity such that different voices, perspectives, facts and opinions are raised, heard and debated. Convergence is having a purpose, goal, values or connected relationships that unite people. But they’re opposite ideas, you may say. They are indeed opposites, and when achieved together, creates the healthy tension and stretch to grow into something better. Most groups tend to achieve either divergence or convergence, however, and are not very smart together as a result.

Megumi Miki diagram for article

GREY ZONE: When everyone thinks the same and they don’t have anything that unites them, it’s just groundhog day. There is no challenge, nothing to strive for.

BEIGE ZONE: When we’re united and we all think the same, it’s comfortable. We feel good because we’re all on the same page. But it’s limiting as there’s no challenge. We are beige. Someone or something else will disrupt from the outside because there’s no disruption on the inside.

RED ZONE: When we’re all different but there’s nothing to unite us, there’s tension, misalignment, frustration and a lot of energy scattered wasted. We may end up with factions, undermining or in-fighting. We are destroying each other’s smarts.

BLUE ZONE: When we allow for differences and have constructive conflict for a uniting purpose, that’s when we have a winner. That’s when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Everyone is able to contribute their unique perspectives without the pressure to fit in, and the differences add to the group rather than split the group.

Getting to the BLUE ZONE requires maturity and skill

Maturity to listen when we disagree, to be influenced by others without giving in, to have the strength to stand our ground while being in the minority, and to leave our egos at the door when compromise is needed. Skills to identify what unites the group, to draw out differences with awareness of power dynamics, to negotiate win-win wherever possible and to find common ground amongst differences.

Not easy to achieve but amazing when achieved. Do you think it’s worth the effort to become smart together? If so, what’s your next step?

Megumi Miki is an author of Start Inspiring, Stop Driving: Unlock your team’s potential to outperform and grow, speaker and consultant on leadership and culture. With 20+ years experience in Leadership Development, Organisational Development, Change and Business Strategy as a consultant as well as being a leader within organisations, she offers leaders practical strategies to be smart together rather than smart on their own.

She faced and overcame many challenges, being a minority in most situations – as a woman, Asian and introvert. She recently started Quietly Powerful Women to help talented quieter women to find ways to succeed in their unique way, not how others expect them to. Her bigger aim is to redefine what good leadership looks like so we have greater diversity of all types in leadership. See more of her articles and activities.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Founder

Mother, wife, daughter, determined dreamer. Lover of books. Background in Human Resources leadership in global organisations.