The more diversity, the faster the perceived change

What might be behind the apparent differences in how we perceive the pace of change? It struck me that despite sharing the same experiences, working in the same company, living in the same part of the world, city or neighborhood, perceptions can vary greatly.

What is interesting is how we may be looking at exactly the same phenomena and one will call it a change, whereas another may not. Just think about the debate around climate change. There will always be the change-equivalent of early adopters, who will spot a change first, call it a change and then a considerable amount of time will be spent debating the extent and pace of change and if it indeed materialises, usually we will then post-rationalise to claim that the change was evident all along. Just look at Nokia. Surely if they could see that despite the small market share that Apple had in comparison to Nokia, their premium pricing model and focus on experience, helped them create incredibly strong products that came to dominate mobile operating systems and smartdevices in the West. Now I’m not under any illusions that there weren’t people inside Nokia that absolutely saw the change, but clearly that view was not widely held enough to spark changes and different choices among all those whose input was needed.

This made me think about the role of homogeneity. The idea of people sharing similar backgrounds and experiences and how being primarily surrounded by people similar to ourselves may literally limit our ability to spot the pace of change. We have of course heard about Group Think,

“a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the “ingroup” produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the “ingroup” significantly overrates their own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of their opponents (the “outgroup”).”

My point is simply this – if you are part of a largely homogeneous context – less things will be shared/noticed/discussed that deviate from the group’s shared view of what is really going on and those who are perhaps spotting the change and wanting to accelerate the pace of adaptation, find themselves ostracized and feeling overly paranoid as those around them simply cannot see what they see.  Thus the more similar the people in a group, the less creative problemsolving they will be able to accomplish. Therefore if you want breakthrough innovation you need diversity, and if you need incremental innovation you need people with similar backgrounds.

But it must be possible to apply this also to perception of change. We each see indicators of change, but our biases (which I wrote about in an earlier post) makes us ignore the signal and focus on what we want to see, rather than what is. Could it then be, that companies/societies with a largely homogeneous group of employees/population (majority from the same country, with similar education, of same sex, religion etc.) could collectively blind themselves of changes happening around them?

Undesign presents an interesting perspective to this. If we can be disciplined in understanding the filters that the context, our biases and experience presents on our ability to observe and instead trying to observe through the eyes of a child, without questioning, evaluating whether something is good or bad, or fits with what we have previously seen or believe in, we may indeed see clearly for the first time. It follows that the more diverse experiences and contexts we open ourselves up to, the more perspectives we will be able to apply, but most importantly, less wedded we will be to a specific point of view only. In effect, it allows us to deconstruct what we see and experience in more ways to be able to adjust and reconstruct our understanding.

Join us in exploring the ideas behind Undesign at next years SXSW by voting for the panel here. Only a few hours left to make your vote count so hurry!

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