Diversity of thought can have a higher impact

Diversity is good for creativity.

That has been scientifically shown numerous times, such as when researchers compared the creative success of teams which had all worked together before and those who were all new to the group.

The ideal ratio for creative performance seems to be about 50% new blood – 50% old groups.

Now, I just came across another study which sheds more evidence on the value of diversity, as well as building deep links in a domain that you collaborate with regularly.

In 2013, Brian Uzzi and his colleagues wanted to see which teams produced the most respected work.

To achieve this, they looked at peer-reviewed scientific journal papers, and looked for a relationship between the makeup of the sources they quote, and how often those papers were cited (an indication of how respected and valuable the research was to the field).

His team looked at more than 17.9 million scientific papers, and looked at which other journals were being quoted. If for example, a paper in a quantum physics journal was quoting another quantum physics journal, this link would be quite conventional, as you would expect experts in a field to have a deep understanding of the research in that field.

If however, a paper in a quantum physics journal quoted research in an microbiology journal, or a history journal, or a modern jazz theory of music journal, these links would be listed as novel and unconventional.

The results of the research show that papers typically relied on very high degrees of conventionality. This means that most papers quote sources from very similar fields, and similar journals would quote one another very often.

Yet this is different for very high-impact papers which are often cited and bring new information to the field:

The highest-impact science is primarily grounded in exceptionally conventional combinations of prior work yet simultaneously features an intrusion of unusual combinations. Papers of this type were twice as likely to be highly cited works.

So if you want to produce high-impact creative or innovative work, what does this mean?

It means that in addition to developing a deep understanding of your field, you should also look for information, knowledge and inspiration from completely different fields as well.

If your company only makes windshield wipers for passenger cars, then yes, you should study what is happening in the windshield-wiper industry (perhaps looking at trucks, boats, planes etc). But it would also be valuable to get information from other industries or fields.

For example, how does a gecko use its tongue to get liquid off their eyes? (biology)

How do professional kitchens keep grease and debris from their expensive pans and knives? (cuisine)

How does a lotus flower or duck’s feathers repeal water droplets? (chemistry and physics)

Gaining a deep understanding of what everyone else knows is great for incremental improvements and convergent thinking. But sometimes you need new information from outside your field to spark completely new thinking.