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Dean Cosier I am firmly convinced that allowing and encouraging diverse viewpoints and opinions will lead to better decisions in almost all contexts.

Allow me to take a different tack when discussing diversity. While I believe that achieving diversity in the workplace and in our educational institutions in the right thing to do, diversity also brings benefits that can be demonstrated by considering  how people can make better decisions.

My research over the past 25 years has examined aspects of the decision-making process. Intrigued when I read about the pitfalls of "groupthink," I wondered if different points of view, similar to what might be present in a diverse group, would lead to better decisions than in a "homogeneous" group with similar opinions.

"Groupthink" is a term used to describe the tendency of groups to be uncomfortable with dissent and points of view that are inconsistent with the prevailing positions within the group. The clear danger is that if the prevailing positions of the group, whether caused by the influence of leadership or culture, are wrong, then a poor, often disastrous decision can occur. Famous researcher Irving Janis has used the groupthink process to explain how groups consisting of highly competent individuals can make terrible decisions. He cites famous fiascos, such as the Bay of Pigs and the Challenger disaster, as being affected by groupthink.

So, why am I convinced that diversity within groups can lead to better decisions? In a series of experimental studies, my colleagues and I asked people to predict the price/earnings (P/E) ratio of various companies based on several types of financial input. Sometimes, people were given input from experts who were in total agreement. Other times, people were given input in which the experts were in partial or total disagreement. As is the case in most real-life decisions, none of the experts knew exactly what the future P/E ratios were going to be, although some were pretty close in hindsight.

Our findings consistently show that people make better financial decisions when they are given information that involves disagreement between the experts. While this may seem surprising, the explanation really makes sense. When exposed to diverse input, people tend to take a closer look at the problem and the surrounding issues. However, if the experts have a common position, many decisions-makers may not question the facts of look deeply into the issues surrounding a problem. Therefore, it makes good "business sense" to encourage diverse views and to encourage group members to communicate their views and positions, regardless of the prevailing views on the matter.

However, it is also important not to let diverse opinions cause anger among those who disagree. If people believe that they will be attacked or alienated for offering a diverse opinion, they will be subjected to the groupthink pressure and not share their viewpoints.

I am firmly convinced that allowing and encouraging diverse viewpoints and opinions will lead to better decisions in almost all contexts. Furthermore, one important source of this diversity is the interaction of people with varied attributes, backgrounds, and experiences. Students learn better in diverse educational settings, and leaders make better decisions within organizations that contain diverse employees.

The Krannert School of Management strives to achieve a diverse student body and a diverse faculty and staff. Furthermore, we include the virtues of diversity in our curriculum. This issue of Krannert Magazine reflects some of our exciting initiatives.

Richard A. Cosier
Dean and Leeds Professor of Management

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