What may be most important for generating collective wisdom is human diversity. If we have good diversity among people who are deliberating an issue – and if we use that diversity well – we have a better chance of generating big-picture insights from all the pieces of the puzzle that those people bring. If we have only intellectuals, for example, we may well not get anything done. On the other hand, if we have only workers we may have things done but nothing may change because those folks may not have thought things through broadly enough or things may hit them that they didn’t realize were there. If we can combine the intellectuals with their big systems understandings and the workers with their sense of on-the-ground realities, we would get a broader understanding. So the more diversity we can involve in making our decisions, the better the chances we will have the kind of people we need in order to foresee and deal with whatever may hit us.
Then there’s the issue of what we’re calling here “emergent differences” – differences that show up in the midst of a conversation: When 2, 3, 100 or 1000 people are talking – even if they all look like they all think alike at the beginning – it usually turns out there are lots of disagreements. Often we marry a person whom we think is so much like us and then – oh my! – all the differences show up. So we need to be able to welcome the emergent differences and then use them creatively, too. This is as important as gathering diverse people right at the beginning.
Finally, I want to note that although the word “diversity” has broadly come to mean differences like race, gender, class, culture, sexual orientation, etc., there’s far more forms of human diversity than those. It is tragic that we use these differences as fundamental identities we then oppress people with – and even more tragic that many of them (especially race) don’t have much basis in biological fact and look less and less solid the closer we look at them. Furthermore, people within any of those supposed classes are more different from each other than they are – as a class – different from people in the groups they are supposedly so different from. Most importantly for us here, those demographic, oppression-related differences are less fundamentally relevant for our capacity to generate collective intelligence and wisdom than other differences like cognitive diversity or differences in perspective and ability to collaborate. Of course we must attend to the charged demographic diversity – for some of the reasons noted above but also because society has made them real and they have profound impact on the way people see things (including themselves and others) and the experiences they’ve had. But we need to not lose sight of their intrinsic relativity and the importance of other forms of diversity.