‘U’ prof presents diversity as key to group work

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 - 3:15pm

Michigan Political Science and Economics Professor Scott Page speaks about his new book, The Diversity Bonus, and the diversity of thought at Palmer Commons Wednesday afternoon.

Michigan Political Science and Economics Professor Scott Page speaks about his new book, The Diversity Bonus, and the diversity of thought at Palmer Commons Wednesday afternoon. Buy this photo
Ruchita Iyer/Daily

After being pushed by a colleague to spread his findings on diversity, Scott Page, a Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan, now travels the country discussing why diverse perspectives and ideas are so crucial to group work.

Wednesday afternoon, Page discussed diversity of thought in a talk concentrated on the findings in his most recent novel, “The Diversity Bonus.” About 50 individuals attended the event focused on the benefits diversity brings to groups solving complex problems.

The talk was hosted in concordance with the founding of a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion certificate offered by the Rackham Graduate School and the start of the Winter 2018 Munger case competition, challenging graduate students to solve complex problems within diverse groups.

Lindsay Trahan, a transdisciplinary program manager at Munger Graduate Residences, explained the Munger case competition and its importance in honing graduate students’ group skills.

“Every semester, Munger hosts a case competition. So, over the past couple of semesters, we’ve reached out to strategic partners interested in some larger topic or issue that is best addressed through diversity of thought, getting graduate students from across different disciplines and having them come together to form teams to address certain issues, such as poverty,” Trahan said. “We want to offer students the opportunity as they are working through this action plan to address diversity and inclusion. We want them to think about it through different lenses.”

Page began his talk by explaining the idea behind a “diversity bonus” –– diversity having a functional, pragmatic value in group settings, leading to an added bonus to efficiency.

Page discussed how the term “diversity” is often misunderstood and fundamentally based on experience. When referencing diversity, he spoke on different perspectives and ideas permeating society.

“When dealing with complexity, you need lots of different frameworks to make sense of the world,” Page said. “What we really mean when we say diversity is people who think about the world in different ways. The core takeaway is that cognitive diversity improves outcomes on complex tasks.”

Page went on to discuss the logic and evidence behind this finding. Citing multiple studies in fields ranging from political science to biology to economics, Page emphasized the concept that working in combination, rather than isolation, produced higher rates of efficiency, accuracy and productivity in groups. He stressed how group creativity outweighed individual creativity in almost all situations.

Page refuted the commonly held notion that diverse groups of individuals counterbalances one another to be merely average. In fact, he claimed, there is almost always a bonus to efficiency because of diversity.

“People sort of think there is this trade-off between excellence and diversity,” Page said. “By being inclusive and diverse, we will actually achieve excellence.”

Finally, Page discussed identity diversity. He explained how identity fundamentally lies in the different attributes making up an individual and how these identities change over time. He then stressed the crucial relationship identity and diversity share.

Rackham student David Morphew discussed why learning about the importance of diversity is crucial to graduate students.

“I was very interested in the topic because I wanted to see some data to back up why diversity is so important for solving problems on a grander scale” Morphew said.

Page closed by reinforcing the correlation between success and diversity.

“If you want something really interesting you have to bring in people trained differently, from different places, from different groups, if you really want to have something amazing,” Page said.