Where minds team up

Innovation potential of your team lies in its cognitive diversity


Researchers has already described broadly the impact of surface-level diversity for team’s creativity and problem-solving. But is this surface diversity enough?

Hiring people in different age, nationality or gender can increase the potential of your team, but it doesn’t guarantee the success of the whole innovation process. What really matters is usually not visible with the naked eye. Therefore, it hides behind stereotypes and impressions. Cognitive diversity is what makes your team capable of creating innovation.

Why is cognitive diversity important for your team?

Cognitive diversity positively influences individual team members’ creativity and the overall team performance in solving complex tasks. Different perspectives, understanding of problems and possible solutions make interactions within the team more efficient. Cognitive diversity enables the team to fully understand the problem, approach it and create the right solution.

Furthermore, we have to remember that diversity of approaches and opinions can cause more conflicts and misunderstandings. That’s why all team members should be aware of their cognitive strengths and weaknesses. They have to learn how to use them to communicate and cooperate effectively with their colleagues.

How can we recognize cognitive diversity in the team?

Carl Jung discovered and explained how our cognitive functions influence the way we perceive reality, process information and make decisions. As the first one, he introduced and described individual styles of cognitive recognition, reflects by different set of cognitive characteristics. Every person has its own cognitive style which interacts with the dynamics of the team and stage of projects.

While creating GenieTeams, we have also utilised Carls’ Jung theory and a number of research and models that help us to understand how individuals act and perform in a complex business environment.

4 types presented below help you to understand how different team members can contribute to the team success. In adition, using GenieTeams platform you can check how your individual cognitive style can influence your work and what is the cognitive structure of your team.

How can different individuals contribute to the innovation process?

In GenieTeams, we have distinguished 4 roles (set of cognitive characteristics) that individuals can play with the view to the innovation process.

Challenger – detail-oriented, organised and disciplined, works well within established structures, rules and policies. As a result, challenger always finishes tasks on time or before a deadline. You might not have considered these team members as highly innovative. Their accuracy and ability to spot faults, flaws and other details might put them at the very start of an innovation process.

Converter doesn’t produce a lot of creative ideas but they can take an abstract idea and turn it into a new product or service. Converter likes to translate very abstract ideas into concrete actions and fix things by himself.

Conceptualizer is exactly this team member, that is traditionally labelled as “innovative” and “creative”. In fact, he enjoys challenging existing assumptions and systems and is likely to suggest disruptive innovations. Conceptualizers are also skilled at reframing problems to inspire people and look at things from various perspectives.

Commercializer is the one who transforms ideas into reality, including the development of new products or work processes, testing and modifying them. Commercializer is highly confident that the change can be really implanted and he knows how to get the things done.

In conclusion, every team leader should make sure that employees understand and use their cognitive strengths in their work. They should also create a sense of psychological safety to encourage people to reveal and deploy their different modes of thinking.

“Surface-level diversity is the differences in easily perceived characteristics, such as gender, race, ethnicity, age, or disability, that do not necessarily reflect the ways people think or feel but may activate certain stereotypes.” Organizational Behavior (2nd edition) S.P Robbins, T.A Judge, T.T Campbell

Surface-level diversity – breaking stereotypes to enhance innovative climate

In our previous blog posts, we’ve been discussing a lot about cognitive diversity in organizations and teams. Before we explain how we can ensure cognitive diversity in the organization, let’s take a look at some common stereotypes connected with surface level diversity and how they affect the climate of today’s organizations. Being aware of biases that stereotypes cause, we can better utilize surface diversity.  Utilizing surface-level diversity creates a  positive atmosphere and innovation climate in the company.


In the western countries, the workforce is aging. Due to the stereotypes, employers have mixed feelings about the aging workforce.  Many believe productivity as well as absenteeism increases with age. However, let’s look at the evidence. Studies are discussed in the book “The relationship of age to ten dimension of job performance”. Research reveals that older employees have an equal (and in some studies lower) rate of unavoidable absences than younger employees. Additionally, age and job task performance are unrelated. Additionally, the same study reveals that older workers are more likely to behave in a better manner than younger employees.


Even now, 2017, women still earn notably less than men do. Studies show that women earn less than men do on the same position.  Research clearly reveals that there is no consistent differences between the genders in problem-solving ability, analytical skills, competitive drive, motivation, sociability, or learning ability. It is clear that women face discrimination in many organization. When people feel discriminated  in an organization, they tend to  have lower levels of organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Therefore, their performance is not optimal, thus hindering growth.

Race and ethnicity

Race is a very taboo and sensitive subject. For this blog post, lets define race and ethnicity as biological and cultural heritage people use to define themselves. Studies revealed that there is a tendency for colleagues to favor individuals from similar ethnicity and race for promotions. Additionally, 25% of non-white Europeans have been discriminated in Belgium, France, England and the Netherlands in the selection process for jobs. Racial minorities report higher level of discrimination in workplaces, alas they too feel discriminated in a workplace.


1/6 people in the European Union are disabled ranging from mild to severe.  Even though they have disabilities, they can still contribute to the economy. However, the disabled face challenges due to the environmental barriers and the stereotypes employers have about them. Studies reveal that the workers with disability receive higher performance evaluations. Unfortunately, the same study reveals that there is a lower performance expectations for disabled people making them less likely to be hired. A survey also reveals that individuals with common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety have a higher absenteeism rate than physically disabled people.

What does surface-level diversity bring to an organization?

Organizations should make it a goal to have a positive diverse climate. This means to have employees with representation of different age, gender, race, and ethnicity groups. Surface-level diversity decreases the amount of discrimination individuals feel because of their surface-level factors. Therefore, they would have higher rates of organizational commitment and their job satisfaction would increase.  Providing disabled people a chance to show their talents usually pays off, and would enhance the climate of diversity in an organization.

Studies show that having a positive climate for diversity overall can increase growth and sales. In our previous post, we discussed how deeper-level diversity optimizes innovation possibility. At the same time, surface-level diversity in an organization can also enhance innovation by facilitating positive and a less discriminative atmosphere. Surface-level diversity  positively influences our mood and increases job satisfaction. A good workplace atmosphere decreases conflict and improves communication. All in all, a positive diverse climate encourages employees to connect, discuss and innovate together.

“The lessons I learned from the dark days at Alibaba are that you've got to make your team have value, innovation, and vision. Also, if you don't give up, you still have a chance. And, when you are small, you have to be very focused and rely on your brain, not your strength.”Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group

Leading towards innovation

Constant innovation is necessary to stay ahead of the competition in an increasingly globalising and rapidly changing world. Leaders and managers are responsible for driving their organizations and teams to innovate . Thus creating an atmosphere that encourages innovation.

Most managers do not lead towards innovation

According to a research done by strategic implementation company, McKinsey & Company in 2008, 70 % of senior executives believe that innovation will be one of the top three drivers for growth in their companies, within the next 3-5 years. Unfortunately, many senior executives fail to implement and make innovation part of their organization and marketing strategy. Therefore, the atmosphere for innovation is not reaching its fullest potential. McKinsey & Companies (2008) research states that 19 % of senior executives neither have growth or innovation part of their strategic-planning process. Less than 50 % of the senior executives have innovation integrated into their process informally. Only 27 % of the senior executives have implemented and integrated innovation and growth planning full in their strategic-planning.

However, there is something special about the organizations that considers themselves innovative, such as the 27 % whom have implemented innovation to their growth plan. These organizations are receiving better reviews on their leadership capabilities than other organizations in the same industry.

There is a correlation between leadership and innovation. So, what can leaders do to cultivate innovative atmosphere in organizations?

Executives and managers should promote innovation by encouraging it by measures that directly implement it into strategic planning.

Managers should schedule a time every week for innovative meetings.

Managers are in charge of creating the teams for innovation. They should add innovation meetings where they have defined what kind of innovation is necessary for the company’s growth, and have people brainstorm and share their opinions openly in these meetings.  Our previous post explains how to form teams to cultivate innovation.

Managers need to ensure financing for innovative ideas.

Innovative ideas worthy of a trial are to be financed. Additionally, they ought to have specific goal targets and constant analyzation. Innovations contain risk. However, risk is necessary in order to grow and stay ahead of other companies in the same industry. An example of a specific target goal of an innovation idea would be to have a certain percentage of revenue coming from the innovative idea. Additionally, a certain amount of revenue should be put into innovative ideas. This ensures a stable cash flow towards innovation.

Managers have to facilitate networking and communication

To decrease the amount of innovation-hindering factors would be to ease networking and communication among organizations. McKinsey & Company state based on an academic research (Fleming & Marx, 2006) “the differences in individual creativity and intelligence matter far less for innovation than connections and networks, for example, networked employees can realize their innovations and make them catch on more quickly.”

Organization communication should be less hierarchical. Additionally, the approach for communication for innovation should be bottom up than top down. When employees feel valued, they are more comfortable to express innovative ideas.  New ideas cultivate more new ideas. When information flow is efficient, it is due to good networking and less bureaucracy in organisations. Therefore, innovations are created, implemented, and trialed more frequently.

Managers oversee the creation of rules and the atmosphere in the company. By making these slight corrections in their organization, they will improve the atmosphere for innovation. The managers will, therefore, lead to innovation, bringing growth and success to the organization.

“Diversity fosters creativity. We need to generate the best ideas from our people in all levels of the company and incorporate them into our business practices.”Frédéric Rozé, chief executive officer, L’Oréal USA

The problem with modern-day recruitment

In today’s corporate world, constant innovation in organization is necessary in order to survive and thrive in the corporate world. Innovation is problem solving, thus companies need to nurture and create innovative teams and an atmosphere to find new solutions to existing as well as future problems. Since innovation starts from people, the question is how do you get the right people in your teams to have the greatest potential for innovative ideas?

Hiring people who are similar to us

The problem in forming teams for innovation lies in recruitment strategy, more specifically in the interview stage. According to a research done by Lauren Rivera (Ph.D.) about recruitment, she found out that “Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but culturally similar to themselves.”. Rivera states that the more similar the candidate is to the interviewer, the more likely they are to be hired. She argued that when there is a lack of specific criteria of which to evaluate potential employees required skills for the organization. Therefore we tend to evaluate them based on “How well do I get along with them”.

A professor in organizational behavior in the London Business school Mandan Pillutla (Ph.D.) came to the same conclusion in his research that we tend to recruit people who are similar to us, even though research has shown that diversity in organization increases successful performance, alas hiring managers are prone to overlook the amount of diversity the interviewed can contribute in an organization that is promoting innovation.  What should be going on the mind of the recruitment manager is; “By hiring this person, are we gaining more diversity to our organization to promote innovation?”

Less diversity in teams results in less innovation

We are prone to the bias of recruiting people we like. Additionally, we usually like people who are similar to us.  Eventually we end up having teams where people share too many similar characteristics. Therefore, creating more friction for originality and innovations. So how should we recruit people to teams and organizations if we want to enhance an atmosphere of innovation?

Organizations should have deeper-level diversity in addition to surface-level diversity. On the surface, candidates may differ in factors such as age, race and gender. However, they may still have a very similar cognitive function, thought process as well as other fundamental deep level values. When these factors are too alike, they do not promote unique innovative ideas. Therefore, the key to promote innovation within organization and teams is to have deep-level diversity amongst peers. The more cognitive and identity diversity, the better.

How to recruit diverse personalities

In the recruitment stage, the recruiting manager should take an implicit association test to discover where their personal biases lie. By being mindful of the personal biases, can the interviewer look beyond the biases of connecting easily to the interviewed. Then we need to find out if the potential employee’s cognitive functions differ from the rest of the team. Therefore, a psychological research based test should be given to the interviewed. The test will help to understand how much more deep level diversity will the employee contribute to the team.

If the potential employees’ personality is the specific type that is required for the team, which is visible through the psychology test that shows cognitive and identity diversity as well as gets along with the interviewer, they’ve got themselves a keeper. Ergo they are one more step closer to a ground-breaking innovation than before.

Creativity is all about connections

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things.

Steve Jobs

Creativity is not just a single gene reserved for genius unique individuals, imprinted in their DNAs. In the 21st century, our work is all about creativity – we all innovate on a daily basis. We all synthesise our experiences, knowledge and ideas to create new things: products, process and solutions. Creativity, explained above by Steve Jobs as an ability to connect and sythesise new things, can be trained and developed.

How can we improve our ability to connect our experiences to innovate?

Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, is an author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel. He proved that foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. Travelling, living in foreign country and engaging with foreign cultures definitely, makes us more creative.

At the same time, not all of us can afford constant travelling or live abroad. What we all can to it implement the same travelling attitude in everyday life. How? Follow below steps!


Step 1 Do something new or do the same thing in a different way

While travelling, we expect every day to bring some new experience.
Expect the same in everyday life – check out new nffee place, book, restaurant. Try a new sport, cook a foreign meal or simply drive to work a different way. Ask your colleagues at work to show you what they do and if you can, try it yourself. Simply – keep trying new things. The more you learn, the more curious and open you become.

Step 2 Meet new people – the stranger they seem to you the better!

Being abroad usually enables us to meet local people or hang out with other travellers. The more we talk– the more we start to understand their culture and point of view. The main power of those diverse perspectives and opinions is that it makes you think, encouraging you to question and evaluate your opinions. The good thing is you don’t have to travel to meet new people – they are everywhere.

Step 3 Think about change and uncertainty as a normal part of the process

Don’t fight with change– accept it. The world is constantly changing and old solutions do not match to new problems. Look for change – it will encourage to create new solutions, enhancing your creativity.

Step 4 Simply –  keep your eyes open.

Look around and observe your environment lie a traveller, who visit the city for a first time. The more you know, see and experience the more likely you are to connect different pieces together and create something unique.

Step 5 Relax, enjoy the moment and let your brain flow!

Sometimes we have to give our brain a break. Either we enjoy full relaxation on the beach in Canari Island or enjoy jogging on Saturday morning – this can be a time when we forget about problems and engage in a moment. This is the time when good ideas come.

Connect and create – start from today!

Everyone can innovate.