Diverse Teams: Sparking Creative Friction

Diverse Teams: Sparking Creative Friction

Photo by kamisoka/iStock/Getty Images

Photo by kamisoka/iStock/Getty Images


Working in diverse teams can spark friction that may require extra mental effort, but the hard work pays off in increased creativity and innovation.



There's growing evidence based on decades of research across the fields of science, economics, sociology, and psychology that diversity, from social diversity to cognitive diversity, enhances creativity.

In experiments around group decision-making, Katherine W. Phillips and colleagues found that diverse groups consistently outperformed homogenous groups in decision-making tasks, but members of the diverse groups perceived their performance to be worse. Whereas homogenous groups incorrectly concluded they had outperformed the diverse groups.

The research showed that more diverse groups produce the type of friction that challenges thinking, causing team members to process information more carefully and work harder to solve problems. Working in diverse teams may require greater mental and social exertion, but the research shows that if teams can effectively manage through the extra mental effort, the hard work can improve decision-making and yield more innovative solutions.

And in her October 2014 article in Scientific American, How Diversity Makes us Smarter, Phillips and fellow researchers highlight how they discovered that even the mere presence of team members who are different from one another exposes teams to unique information, experiences, and perspectives that cause team members to process information differently, bringing new information and creative insight to bear on a given problem.

Phillips's article in Scientific American was part of a special report by Scientific American on how diversity empowers science and innovation.




Phillips, Katherine W., How Diversity Makes us Smarter: Being Around People Who are Different from Us Makes Us More Creative, More Diligent and Harder-working, Scientific American, Oct. 1, 2014 (republished Jan. 30, 2017) (digital article).

Phillips, Katherine W., Katie A. Liljenquist, Margaret A. Neale, Is the Pain Worth the Gain? The Advantages and Liabilities of Agreeing With Socially Distinct Newcomers, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 35, No. 3, Dec. 2008, pp. 336-350.

Scientific American, Special Report: State of The World's Science 2014, How Diversity Empowers Science and Innovation, Sept. 16, 2014 (online).