How organizations can embrace diversity to boost creativity
Creativity is of vital importance in the modern world. Does diversity help promote it?
This series on diversity and inclusion is sponsored by Amway, which supports a prosperous economy through having a diverse workplace. Companies committed to diversity and inclusion are better equipped to innovate and drive performance. For more information, visit amwayglobal.com/our-story.
Creativity is a vital resource in the modern business world. In an IBM survey of more than a thousand CEOs, creativity was ranked as the most important quality in a modern business leader. In another study, creativity was found to be an essential requirement for entrepreneurship.
The need for a creative workplace is self-evident. How to promote creativity is less obvious. One method that is often considered is increasing the diversity of the workplace. Intuition suggests that this should be effective, as a plethora of worldviews and life experiences should promote a variety of responses to problems. But is this true?
Diversity and creativity
There has been surprisingly little research on this subject despite the apparent interest in promoting creativity and learning about how diverse environments affect us. There are two extensive studies, however, that explore the relationship between creativity and diversity for both individuals and organizations.
The first study by Jackson Lu, Paul Eastwick, and several others examined the effect that intercultural dating had on creativity. Over the course of several experiments, it was shown that a history of intercultural dating could predict how well a person would score on a variety of creativity tests. A second experiment showed the effect was not a mere correlation, as subjects performed better on the same tests when they had spent time reflecting on an intercultural relationship rather than on an intracultural one.
The last part of the study focused on intercultural friendships rather than romantic relationships and found that more frequent contact with friends of another culture was a predictor for whether the subject would display traits of entrepreneurship or workplace innovation, providing further evidence that close intercultural relationships can promote creative thinking.
The authors concluded that their study provided “the first empirical evidence that intercultural romantic relationships and friendships can enhance creativity by facilitating cultural learning.” They suggested that the mechanism for improved creativity is the mental flexibility that consistent interactions with someone from a culture that differs from your own often requires.
Getting a second opinion
The second study, by Ceren Ozgen, Jacques Poot, and Peter Nijkamp, focused on the organizational effects of diversity and sought to determine if a diverse organization was a creative one. After deciding that the literature up to that point had shown mixed results, the researchers chose to analyze data comparing workplace demographics to innovation in Dutch companies.
While their findings did show that a young, highly skilled workforce located near competing firms tended to be more innovative, the diversity factor was insignificant though positive. Furthermore, if employees from the same country tended to stick together rather than interacting with those from different places, the effect of diversity on innovation was negative. After adding a factor for fixed effects, a tool often used in statistics to identify underlying variables, the only significant element of innovation in large firms that remained was the presence of high-skilled employees.
The authors concluded that “we do not find supporting empirical evidence for firms benefitting from cultural diversity of employment once reverse causality and unobserved firm heterogeneity are both taken into consideration.” So, is the jury still out?
Despite the disagreement of these studies, some things can still be said about a diverse workplace. Both studies agree that the depth of relationships is important and that no positive effect exists when there is no meaningful interaction between people of differing cultures. It also remains possible that the second experiment did not focus on types of workplace creativity that were positively affected by diversity, as the authors suggested. As always, more research is needed.
So what can an organization do to take advantage of the findings of these studies?
How organizations can benefit from diversity
The authors of the first study suggest that the benefits of intercultural exchange can be harnessed at the organizational level in two steps. As these suggestions are geared towards improving the individual, the findings of the second study do not rule out the possibility of later benefits reaching the workplace.
“The first step for organizations is to cultivate an intercultural environment by opening the door to individuals from different cultures. For example, to enhance cultural diversity in the workplace, organizations could develop more exchange programs between offices in different countries. In addition, organizations could provide more financial and logistical support for international employees in the challenging process of obtaining work visas and residency permits.”
They suggest a step two that is a little more involved.
“Having ensured an adequate level of cultural diversity for intercultural interactions, the second step for organizations is to nurture close relationships among employees from different cultures. When intercultural relationships are mismanaged, they can breed discomfort, mistrust, and conflict due to cultural barriers and differences which explains why people generally favor intracultural romantic relationships and friendships in the first place. Instead of forcing international employees to suppress their cultural values and assimilate to the host culture, organizations could encourage inclusive multiculturalism by highlighting the benefits of cultural differences for both cultural in-groups and out-groups. Firms could facilitate deep intercultural relationships through shared activities, both inside and outside the workplace. At work, managers could assign foreign and domestic employees to work together on tasks that require cooperation, thereby reducing intergroup bias and barriers."
The authors suggest that individuals should “go out of their comfort zone to develop meaningful and long-lasting relationships with individuals from other cultures. While not everyone has the resources and opportunity to go abroad, they could strive to develop meaningful intercultural relationships via meet-ups (e.g., language exchange programs) within their home city.”
They remind us, however, that this effect only works with deep interpersonal connections and not with passing acquaintances. If you want the benefits from this effect, you have to work for it.
While it may not be the case that a workplace with greater diversity is necessarily a more creative one, it is the case that people with greater intercultural exposure and more committed intercultural relationships are more creative. Steps that encourage these relationships are likely to pay off in the long run. In a world where creativity and cultural literacy are ever more important, it certainly can’t hurt.
A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.
- In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
- A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
- The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
The ergosphere<p>The ergosphere is a region just outside a black hole's event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. But light and matter just outside the event horizon, in the ergosphere, would also be affected by the immense gravity of the black hole. Objects in this zone would spin in the same direction as the black hole at incredibly fast speeds, similar to objects floating around the center of a whirlpool.</p><p>The Penrose process states, in simple terms, that an object could enter the ergosphere and break into two pieces. One piece would head toward the event horizon, swallowed by the black hole. But if the other piece managed to escape the ergosphere, it could emerge with more energy than it entered with.</p><p>The movie "Interstellar" provides an example of the Penrose process. Facing a fuel shortage on a deep-space mission, the crew makes a last-ditch effort to return home by entering the ergosphere of a blackhole, ditching part of their spacecraft, and "slingshotting" away from the black hole with vast amounts of energy.</p><p>In a recent study published in the American Physical Society's <em><a href="https://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.023014" target="_blank">Physical Review D</a>, </em>physicists Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo used similar ideas to describe another way energy could be extracted from a black hole. The idea centers on the magnetic fields of black holes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and lead study author, told <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/energy-particles-magnetic-fields-black-holes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia News</a>.</p>
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration<p>While there might not be immediate applications for the theory, it could help scientists better understand and observe black holes. On an abstract level, the findings may expand the limits of what scientists imagine is possible in deep space.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars," Comisso said. "It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it."</p>
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.
Knowing what to do is one thing, doing it is another.
- Everybody knows about the trolley problem, and its variations provide the source of endless discussion.
- However, few people consider the problem holistically. Would you actually be able to pull the lever?
- A new essay reminds us that many philosophies have a holistic approach to moral problems that we should consider.
The difference between thinking about the trolley problem and pulling the lever<p> Dr. Sin, an Assistant Professor at the Education University of Hong Kong, argues that the scenario described in the trolley problem is not a mundane occurrence but an extreme event that will require an instantaneous response utilizing not only a person's ethical convictions but also their physical strength, psychological composure, and other capacities. </p><p>He turns to certain Eastern philosophies and their often holistic approaches to ethical problems to explain this perspective. The <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/japanese-zen/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zen Buddhism</a> of the Samurai and the personal philosophy of martial arts legend Bruce Lee as exemplified by Jeet Kune Do, both approach fights as "extreme events" which cannot be overcome by just knowing what moves to make. A skilled martial artist must also remain calm during a battle, be able to strictly concentrate on the task at hand, and be able to differentiate between the actions done during practice and what is necessary during an actual fight.</p><p>A great fighter is not just one who wins, but one who does so well, with masterful control of themselves and their actions as they engage in something most people actively try to avoid. Dr. Sin connects this multifaceted understanding of fighting to how an individual must approach pulling or not pulling the lever in the trolley problem:</p><p> "<em>The greatness or goodness of an action can't be judged purely by looking at its consequences, or by the type of action that it falls under in certain deontological categories. In addition, we need to consider the features of the moral battlefield that the agent is fighting against; these might involve how much blame/guilt that an agent is willing to carry, how demanding the situation is from the agent's viewpoint, how great the obstacles are for him to overcome, etc. In the trolley case, we can tell the difference between better or worse responses as some agents are able to maintain composure in an extreme situation and some aren't. A panicked or chaotic response may not mean much ethically, even if it saved more lives than it killed."</em></p>
Three philosophies and their stances on complex moral problems<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/yHcntfFN9FY" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> <br> </p><p>Unlike utilitarianism or deontology, which are primarily concerned with showing you what to do in a particular situation, the philosophies Dr. Sin examines, including Zen Buddhism, Bruce Lee's take on Jeet Kune Do, and <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/confucius/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Confucianism</a>, often aim for the "practical refinement of life" rather than writing a decision process for difficult questions. </p><p>As Dr. Sin explains, this means these schools lend themselves to more holistic interpretations of approaching ethical problems and extraordinary events:</p><p> "<em>While Jeet Kune Do prepares people for a physical encounter with their enemies in the street, a bar, or carpark, Bruce Lee emphasizes the importance of knowing oneself through the confrontations. The</em></p><p><em>doctrines of Zen Buddhism were interpreted similarly by traditional Japanese swordsmen. But the practice and rigid discipline in Zen Buddhism is primarily proposed for the sake of self-realization: for practitioners to 'overcome the barrier between life and death (liaoshengjuesi</em><em>了生決死</em><em>).' Judgements about what people should do in particular cases stem from this direction of concern. The Zen Buddhists or traditional Confucians are not so interested in analyzing the balance of reasons in particular cases, or testing the consistency of ethical principles as such.</em></p><p><em>In the Analects, Confucius sometimes says different things to different students, seemingly contradicting himself. But he doesn't really care about demonstrating the overall structure of his "doctrines." He cares more about whether his words and deeds can help improve his students' characters, or highlight their mistakes when they arise. For Confucius, the objective of learning is largely about acquiring the know how for someone to become a better father, son, minister, etc. Confucius, in his teaching, does not like to engage in arguments. He prefers his students see the flaws themselves in their own reflection and correct them silently."</em></p><p>When asked if the principle of treating some ethical questions holistically went beyond fights and runaway trolleys, Dr. Sin largely agreed:</p><p> "<em>You can say that all performances should be evaluated holistically. We should always look beyond the actions, or their consequences, and study the territory in which the persons perform those actions. By 'territory,' I mean the kind of people the agents are, their histories, other features of the situation that are pertinent to them."</em></p>
How can I use these insights?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/l0-6qTVTsxE" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Dr. Sin points out that many Zen monks apply this understanding in day to day life:</p><p> "<em>Some Japanese Zen monks adopt an attitude of seriousness to handle small things and routine matters. Apart from its intrinsic values (to achieve a small moral triumph), the practice itself is useful for self-cultivation."</em></p><p>There is no real reason that you have to be a monk to do that. He also suggests taking a look at the key texts of these philosophies. The <em><a href="http://confucius-1.com/analects/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Analects</a> </em>of Confucius and <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Tao-Jeet-Kune-Do-Expanded/dp/0897502027" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Tao of Jeet Kune Do</a> </em>by Bruce Lee, for example, both provide thought-provoking and useful ideas. </p><p> And for those wondering how a Zen Master or Confucian Sage might act when faced with an out of control trolley car, Dr. Sin reminds us that they would consider that to be the wrong question:</p><p>"<em>For, the 'solution' is dependent on the readiness of the agents in the case. As Nietzsche says, strong people can digest their experiences (including deeds and misdeeds) as they digest</em><em>their meals. If the people are not ready, there is not much to be said here."</em></p><p>He went on to suggest a Zen monk might hit you with a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keisaku" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">keisaku</a> for asking and that Bruce Lee might see how you react to a fury of fists stopping near your face.</p><p>While it is entertaining and often intellectually stimulating to consider what the right thing to do in the situation imagined by the trolley problem and its endless variations would be, Dr. Sin and the thinkers he references remind us that it is often not enough to merely know what we should do but also to have the capacity to act on that information. A total response to the extreme situation imagined in the trolley problem will require various skills that may need active cultivation before such an event occurs.</p>
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