Cognitive Diversity: Develop a Breakthrough Problem-Solving Team

Kathryn HaydonBusiness, Grow Your Creativity

Cognitive Diversity: Develop a Breakthrough Problem-Solving Team

By Kathryn P. Haydon

Business, Grow Your Creativity

IBM conducted an internal study on growing and sustaining efficient and effective innovation teams. The study found that regardless the innovation process being used (i.e., Agile, Lean Startup, Creative Problem Solving, Design Thinking, etc.), teams that knew which stages of the creative process they preferred and how to use creative problem processes and tools outperformed the teams that did not.

“When teams are aware of their preferences, conflict can be diffused or leveraged as creative tension, producing a potentially more synergistic result,”1wrote IBM lead inventor Casimer DeCusatis.

One reason for these improved relations is the elimination of cognitive bias, our unconscious incompetence that leads to team dysfunction.2 Statistics show that we tend to reward people who have similar preferences to ours.

Let’s say your team is full of people who love coming up with new ideas. Every meeting is like an ideation party. But there is one person on the team who wants to get things done. That buzz-kill always breaks in and says, “Hey, guys, let’s decide already and get this done.” Can’t you hear the groans? 

But when the whole team is aware that everybody else prefers ideating and that guy prefers implementation, the situation becomes less personal. Instead, it can be viewed as a matter of preference and process.3

The depersonalization helps to create a psychologically safe workplace for all and supports diversity in the workplace by putting everyone on the same playing field using the same language. In this case, the group will now be aware that it needs to limit idea generation time and even leverage the teammate’s zest for production in order to be more effective. 

A recent study demonstrated this to be true in educational contexts, just as it can be in all organizations. It was found that teachers teach according to their creative process preferences and favor students who have similar preferences as they do.2 Another study found that fully half of the teachers it surveyed had a high clarifier, or question-asking, preference.3  Put this in the context of the meeting above, and it is obvious that students who love clarifying will have a distinct advantage in most classrooms, and those who do not will be at a disadvantage. 

Extrapolate this out to leaders, bosses, and teammates. If we are aware of our creative process preferences, we can be aware of our own behavioral biases in terms of how we relate to each other. As we learn to harness these preferences individually and across our teams, we not only become more powerful problem solvers but also we become first-class collaborators.

Want to know your own problem solving preferences to grow your impact? Learn more here.

This article is based on the author’s book, The Non-Obvious Guide to Being More Creative, No Matter Where You Work, and contains some excerpts.



1 DeCusatis, Casimer. “Creating, Growing, and Sustaining Efficient Innovation Teams.” IBM p. 231

2 Gurak-Ozdemir, Serap, “Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Creativity Characteristics” (2016). Creative Studies Graduate Student Master’s Theses. 28. 

3 Mann, M. C. (2003). Identifying the creative problem solving preferences of secondary educators and administrators. Unpublished master’s thesis, State University of New York College at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York.


Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.

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