Diversity of Thought

Hacking Life By Reducing Group Think

Buenos Aires by Eduardo Sanchez On Unsplash

All of us are creatures of habit. Some more so than others. It is hard to break habits especially when you live in a bubble with a set routine and a regular set of people who see the world through the same lens as you do. The danger with living and working in the same ecosystem is that we become victims of group think. We do not question the world in our immediate vicinity and simply take it for granted. Ultimately, we end up reacting to change instead of becoming the agents of change.

Bitcoin’s biggest contribution was to force a change in mindset. It is a Proof of Concept (PoC) that shook the foundations of finance, economics and accounting by re-thinking currencies and monetary policy, cross-border money transfers and recording transactions immutably.

Understanding that disruption is natural and keeping a close watch on emerging technologies will prevent us from bringing the disruption home to our personal lives. This article walks through simple habits that can be implemented in our daily lives to reduce and overcome the danger of homogeneous thinking by increasing exposure to diversity of thought.

Divided We Conquer

One of the most remarkable experience I had as an internal consultant at an international Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) giant in India was to witness a diverse team in action. The corporate function that created these teams for specific projects which were in different countries relied heavily on the Belbin Team Roles model to create teams. The process behind creating a diverse team of professionals in executing a project in a foreign country was fascinating. It had three main objectives:

  1. Create a team of professionals with different backgrounds that could lead to a diverse set of eyes looking at the problem to come up with a holistic solution.
  2. Rotate functional expertise e.g. allow an HR professional to review finance. There would always be a finance expert on the team that the HR specialist could consult should he/she run into a wall.
  3. Take people out of their cultural comfort zone and proverbial ‘bubble’ by exposing them to different cultures, expand their network and create an open mindset that is constantly learning from the best.

The outcome of the project, which was delivered to the country officer in charge of that business would be a very superior product because it offered a birds-eye view of how the various functions worked together in the business i.e. a general manager’s view of his business but from external third parties. Thus, the recommendations would consist not just of immediate effects of making a change but rather the cascading effects of important decisions. The report was just like an independent CEO’s evaluation of his peer.

My take away from observing this multi cultural, multi dimensional network of people working on the same problem was that diversity of thought is incredibly powerful. Since then, I consciously network with people with a completely different view of life. Almost daily.

The Bitcoin Debate

Let’s take Satyam and Frank as an example. Satyam is from Silicon Valley and Frank is from the world of finance.

Satyam: I believe the current payments and money transfer systems need an overhaul.

Frank: Why do you say so?

Satyam: Well, Blockchains can instantly transfer money over a giant computer network without expensive fees to deal with and it’s an immutable record.

Frank: But, doesn’t anonymity breed fraud? Also, are Blockchains scalable?

Satyam: Yes, perhaps we need a centralized governance of decentralized networks or code that governs malicious behavior. Scalability will be solved by adopting a different approach such as the Ethereum Blockchain moving to a Proof of Stake soon. Hopefully, energy consumption would also be lowered.

The classical debate between Silicon Valley and Wall Street continues. Nasdaq became the third exchange to offer Bitcoin futures after the CME and CBoE bringing the Bitcoin debate mainstream.

As I listen to Silicon Valley stalwarts, I realize that the diversity of thought that the valley brings can seem like groupthink to people living in the valley. Therefore, exposure to the world of finance provides a new perspective to design practical solutions and bring innovation to the mainstream.

While Blockchain is not the panacea for all ills, disruption such as AI and Blockchain spawn an urgency for change. However, no system is perfect. An imperfect idea gets replaced by a better imperfect idea. Again, diversity of thought is required to achieve that evolution.

Breaking Old Habits

McKinsey Global Institute reports in it’s latest report on the impact of automation on the workforce:

“Our scenarios suggest that by 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories. Moreover, all workers will need to adapt, as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines. Some of that adaptation will require higher educational attainment, or spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities and other skills relatively hard to automate”

Creative collaboration (e.g. thinking out of the box, working with global teams virtually, designing User Interfaces) is what will remain if a lot of jobs get automated. Perhaps, debugging and updating code could be other pursuits. The bottom line is that we have to move out of our comfort zone which requires us to adopt a completely different approach.

For instance, I apply IDEO’s approach to design thinking to all my operational processes.

IDEO Design Thinking Process

Other simple habits to bring diversity of thought in your everyday behavior include :

Learning to Understand Code. If Possible, Learning To Code

This is not a one size fits all solution but it has certainly helped me understand machines and their language better. I can understand why an algorithm is producing a certain output or if the data set is flawed to begin with. Code Academy allows you to learn coding for free.

Consume Different Sources of Media

Traditional media may not spur deep and diverse thinking. Although, in a knowledge economy — it becomes almost impossible not to stay abreast of geopolitical developments. My source of news typically is The Economist.

I also try to be a polymath as far as books are concerned. Voracious reading is indispensable today. My iBooks app covers subjects ranging from programming to psychology. I will admit I mostly read non-fiction. Therefore, my lesson is to mix it up with fiction.

Richard Feynman’s six pieces on physics, Atlas Obscura, The Thing Explainer are some of my recent discoveries.

Alternate Sources of Knowledge

Each day, my daily mental diet includes reading blogs such as Farnam Street blog, Melting Asphalt, Marginal Revolution, Unenumerated.

I also listen to 1 hour of podcasts everyday on my commute. My favorites podcasts are : Conversations With Tyler, The Tim Ferriss Show, The James Altucher Show, The Joe Rogan experience, The Crazy One, The Kevin Rose Show, Hardcore History and the Future Thinkers podcast.

In addition, WIRED magazine, Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, Scientific American, Rolling Stone Magazine, Art News are some of my other regular reads.

Devote Time To Networking

As the world becomes increasingly complex and automated at the same time, there is a need to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to solving problems. For instance, simply learning to code is not enough to bring a good app to the market. User Interface (U/X) design, A/B testing of that design and empathizing with the user is equally important.

Every week, I make it a point to meet 3–5 people with different interests. For instance, I attempt to meet people from marketing, HR, digital products, FinTech and venture capital teams to broaden my horizons.

I have learnt the basics of several disciplines so that I can empathize with different colleagues and shorten the duration of a project by securing buy-in quickly.

At the end, empathy has made me a better human being.

You can choose to be alone and try to bring change faster or you can be a bit slower and carry every one along with you. I guarantee you that taking people along on a common mission will be more rewarding.

Universal Truths

The more I listen to smart and wise men and women around the world, the more I realize they have the same beliefs. Some have acquired them quickly, others have taken more time. Some of the common beliefs I have heard over time are:

1. Using your mortality as a motivator in actual life

2. The importance of habit especially meditation and Yoga.

3. The futility of self and the need for open and unbiased thinking.

4. The need to live in the present by dropping all anchors of the past and not spending too much time thinking about the future.

5. The need to overcome desires as a way to salvation

6. Thinking about money as a means to an end and pursuing happiness instead.

7. Reading books voraciously and about a diverse set of subjects (especially classics such as books authored by Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Gandhi to name a few).

8. The need for lifelong learning.

9. Empathy as one of the most powerful tools to create relationships.

10. Giving unconditionally and living for others as a way of life.

There are some universal truths that all of us are searching for.

Diversity of thought can help us hack or shorten the process of searching for them just as it did in my case.

For instance, expanding our time horizon to think that our contributions will be immaterial centuries later helps us enjoy our present more, avoid comparisons with people and laugh often. However, it took a person looking at an ultra long timeline such as Stewart Brand, the creator of the Whole Earth Catalog to remind me not to take myself too seriously.

A wise man once said:

Hard choices lead to an easy life; Easy choices lead to a hard life.

I hope you make the hard choices of embracing diversity of thought as a way of being and of going out of your comfort zone so regularly that your comfort zone becomes limitless. After all, if each of us is as unique as our memory, diversity allows us to experience many lives at once. And, in doing so, uncovering the true purpose of life.

Writer @ The Intersection of Finance, Tech & Humanity. Stories of a Global Language: “Money”. Contributor @ Startup Grind, HackerNoon, HBR. Twitter@akothari_mba

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