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The importance of diversity of thought

Mrs Anna Owen, Deputy Principal

In a two-part series on the topic of ‘diversity of thought’, Deputy Principal, Mrs Anna Owen, introduces the concept and how it is woven into a broad, liberal education at Brisbane Girls Grammar School. In Term IV, English Teacher, Mr Anthony Cupitt, will expand on the topic, drawing from his experiences and perspective.

‘Diversity of thought goes beyond the affirmation of equality… instead, the focus is on realising the full potential of people … by acknowledging and appreciating the potential promise of each person’s unique perspective and different way of thinking.’ (Tulshyan, n.d.)

The benefits of diversity of thought are well established. According to research conducted by The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission in partnership with Deloitte Australia, it contributes to better and more innovative performance (eighty-three per cent increase) and team collaboration (forty-two per cent increase).

Put simply, Deloitte argues that when an organisation supports diversity of thought they are eighty per cent more likely to be high-performing and innovative.

Diversity of thought provides a robust and collaborative approach to problem solving, innovation and creativity; it is an approach adopted and endorsed by the corporate world and — guided by the principles of our Strategic Design — equally so within Brisbane Girls Grammar School’s rich learning environment. Girls Grammar effectively harnesses the power of diversity of thought to create an environment where our girls feel valued, are comfortable in contributing ideas and actively seek to learn from their peers.

The advantages of collaborative thinking are well known; more specifically the importance of diversity of thought lies within the fact that a variety of perspectives and thoughts stimulate individuals to examine and carefully think through their own opinions for the purpose of constructing a stronger approach or system.

This assumes a process in which the most reasonable or beneficial ideas can be cultivated through cross-examination and refinement. It is a critical-thinking process, made possible when people are exposed to a wide range of ideas and perspectives. Diversity of thought is valuable insofar as it makes the critical-thinking process possible.

When people disagree with us or question our bias and theories it is a gift. It allows us to examine our understanding of our views and leads us to examine them more critically. Merely listening to others present their thoughts is never enough, we must engage with them further, by doing more reading and always remaining critical of every thought presented to us. The Ethics Centre — an organisation that works to bring ethics to the centre of professional lives and align actions with values and principles — describes this process within ‘The Principle of Charity’. The Principle suggests we should try to understand ideas before criticising them (The Ethics Centre, 2017 March 10). Charity reminds us that in any debate we are trying to find the truth, not win the argument. For any discussion to be successful, we must understand what a person means rather than what they explicitly say.

We must also understand the benefits of the different strengths and skills we offer as individuals to a team. As Griswold (2013 September 27) details, ‘some people are analytical thinkers, while others thrive in creative zones. Some are meticulous planners, and others love spontaneity’. The way we each as individuals interpret and negotiate the world around us is informed by our identity, our culture and our experiences. Some of it is inherent; those traits with which we are born. Much of it is acquired; gained from experience. Both are valuable in a team environment.

Bringing together a diverse combination of thought — each with its own influences and reasoning — stimulates creativity, deepens insight and leads to better outcomes. It is a way of ensuring the team’s output is inspired by the collective, rather than the individual.

Why is focussing on diversity of thought so important at Girls Grammar?

Diversity of thought belongs to the group, not just the individual student. A student group facing a challenging assignment will not be able to effectively design and build products in Technology, solve a problem in Science or argue a point in Modern History if the group represents only a small portion of the knowledge required to do so. Good ideas often come from the collaboration of people with diverse perspectives ‘bumping up’ against each other – engaging in a discourse, debate and discussion; inspiring one another to consider refinements and iterations on their concepts, and challenging assumptions by drawing on different experiences and views.

Our role in educating the women of tomorrow must include a sensitivity to the influence and necessity of diversity of thought as contributors in diverse teams. We teach our students to learn to think, contribute and listen critically — to ensure they maximise their value to the team, and to leverage diversity of thought to achieve the best possible outcome.

A quote attributed to Einstein, but with some variations in translation reads, ‘no problem can be solved using the same kind of thinking that created it’.

For teams, it is important to approach a problem from many angles and avoid the tendency to reapply the principles to solving the problem that may have created it initially. These principles may include closed-mindedness, the tendency to make a decision rooted in ‘this is the way we have always done it’ thinking or focussing on an individual rather than the collective.

The overarching commitment of a Girls Grammar education is articulated in the Cornerstones of Learning — a set of fundamental principles that guide our approach to teaching and learning. Whether we are preparing our students to be an integral part of a high-performing team in their work lives, or giving them the skills to ensure their voices and contributions are heard and valued, the Cornerstones prepares our girls for life beyond the classroom.

Our student-led student leadership model and co-curricular programmes at Girls Grammar are curated around the same theme, deepening students’ academic learning and promoting the balanced development of the whole girl through diverse ‘collective’ experiences. Participation in pursuits such as debating, team sports and the International Young Physicists Tournament provides a challenging context for students to safely and fearlessly contribute their individual strengths and ideas, while purposefully being open to and harnessing those of their peers. By experiencing the process, Grammar girls come to know the value of the collective.

As Dr Bruce Addison (2016, p. 1), the School’s Dean of Curriculum and Scholarship, emphasises, the Cornerstones of Learning model at Brisbane Girls Grammar School is committed to deepening knowledge and promoting wisdom. ‘The ideal of exceptional scholarship realises individual potential through critical inquiry, supportive encouragement and respectful relationships, and captures our vision of a fine educational institution.’

Diversity of thought will propel the advancement of our culture. If we are too conservative, we will grow into an unsustainable archaism. If we are too liberal, we will lose our identities and our focus.

Girls Grammar is perfectly positioned to manage this balance. Girls are exposed to diversity of thought, and are willing and ready to leverage the opportunities it presents in order to reach the best possible outcomes to solve not only today’s challenges, but those of the future. As important as it is to meet challenges, it is equally important to meet them in a way which is principled, balanced, inspired by curiosity and adventure, and reflects a desire to lead — all of which define the identity of a Grammar girl.

References

Addison, B. (2016). Cornerstones of Learning: an Explanation. (p. 1).

The Ethics Centre. (2017, March 10). Ethics Explainer: the Principle of Charity [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.ethics.org.au/on-ethics/blog/march-2017/ethics-explainer-the-principle-of-charity.

Griswold, A. (2013, September 27). Why ‘Thought Diversity’ Is The Future Of The Workplace. [Ideas]. Business Insider Australia.Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-future-of-workplace-diversity-is-here-2013-9.

Tulshyan, R. (n.d.). Diversity of Thought. Diversity Woman. Retrieved from http://www.diversitywoman.com/diversity-of-thought/

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  1. […] a recent Insights article published in BGGS News, Brisbane Girls Grammar School Deputy Principal, Mrs Anna Owen, stated the […]