To all the research and design misfits

Cognitive diversity has never been so important. If you can see patterns in complex information, use deep empathy to research and understand the needs of others, and coach agile innovation teams to be vulnerable, without burning out — then your skills have never been more valuable than they are now. Cognitive diversity is just different styles of thinking.

“Colleagues gravitate toward the people who think and express themselves in a similar way. As a result, organizations often end up with like-minded teams… This lack of cognitive diversity has two impacts. First, it reduces the opportunity to strengthen the proposition with input from people who think differently. Second, it fails to represent the cognitive diversity of the… population, reducing the impact of the initiatives.”

Harvard Business Review, Alison Reynolds and David Lewis

We need a host of different perspectives to solve the wicked problems we’re facing, and we need to widen our concept of diversity to the mind if we’re going to welcome those perspectives into the group and keep them well and healthy.

  • How you express yourself — from quiet to gregarious
  • How you assert yourself — from peacekeepers, looking for consensus as an outcome, to drivers who seek material change as the outcome
  • How you see the world — from adapters to innovators (adapters tend to accept problems as defined, seek early and easily-implemented solutions, and appreciate rules and consensus. Innovators, tend to reject the common perceptions of problems and redefine them, they seem less-interested in quick-fixes, and prefer to focus on long-term solutions.)
  • How you think — from analytical problem solvers, to structural details people, to social / relational thinkers, and conceptual thinkers
  • How you manage your energy — from introvert or extrovert.

However, the honest truth is, we’re still in transition from a cognitively-normative world of work. So it can feel pretty uncomfortable being cognitively diverse. If you’re naturally a peacekeeper, then the business change world, with its aggressive language of ‘killing the competition’, ‘frontline’ and ‘driving change’ just feel plain wrong.

I’m differently wired and it makes me good at my job, but also ‘a sensitive soul’, as the world likes to say. I’ve written about this before.

My conclusion is, a) it’s not a problem, and b) it’s not my problem. The world tells me it needs me and what I can do, so my view now is that it can adapt to fit me and what I need. Space, quiet, time-out etc. But this doesn’t come naturally to the cognitively diverse, who have tended to feel like outsiders and learnt that it’s best to keep a low profile, working under camouflage.

I’ve had to bootstrap my way through all this, but times are changing, and there are now plenty of books and resources out there that you can draw on for confidence, to assert your own position and value, in your own way. I’m also trying to make it easier for those coming up with cognitive diversity, who were once where I was, struggling to, a) see their value in a normative world, and b) struggling to keep going in a working world that wants them but, despite their best intentions, still finds it hard to accommodate them.

Embrace your strengths. Work on how to more confidently and sustainably present those strengths to the world. And talk to others about the upsides and downsides of your strengths, so they can better accommodate you. In the meantime, be compassionate to the cognitively-normative around you — we often can’t see the water we’re swimming in, and certainly we need others to balance our weaknesses. These are all things that have helped me.

Originally published at on February 19, 2020.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store