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Exploring your team’s intellectual diversity

Dawna Markova's concepts of mind patterns and thinking talents can help leaders unlock the intellectual diversity in their teams.

4 min read


Photo of a brain to illustrate intellectual diversity


This post is by Nina Simons in partnership with Weaving Influence, a full-service digital marketing agency. Since launching 10 years ago, Weaving Influence has helped clients launch more than 150 books, carving its niche in working with authors, thought leaders, coaches, consultants, trainers, nonprofit leaders and speakers to market their services and books.

Is your team optimizing their innate talents? Are they able to bring their inherently diverse perspectives together effectively to problem-solve collaboratively?

In considering diversity, we most often think of race, culture, gender and ethnicity. But there are differences that are less visible in how we think and communicate that — when consciously explored — can increase innovation, minimize turnover, improve loyalty and increase your staff’s ability to effectively collaborate. All of this adds value to your bottom line.

My concept of diversity dramatically expanded through learning from Dawna Markova, internationally known for her research in the fields of learning and perception. The most common mistake leaders make in business, she said, is thinking that people who think like them are smart while people who think differently are not.

She describes distinct ways or systems that illustrate how people think and process information differently, which she calls intellectual diversity. One system is called “mind patterns,” and the other is “thinking talents.” Both are described in detail in her book co-authored with Angie MacArthur.

Mind patterns describe how you receive and integrate information best — a function of how you process input in three different realms of communication: auditory, visual and kinesthetic.

Each of those three ways of perceiving relates to a different realm of responding to input. One is your most focused thinking, the second is how you sort information, and the third is your most open, sensitive or creative modality.

Applying this to your team

How might it be useful to learn how intellectual diversity plays out in how each member of your team best receives communications?

For example, one of my colleagues prefers to be called by phone, to hear questions or information by voice, to have the information land well in them. By contrast, I orient to seeing ideas or questions in writing first. Knowing this, we can adapt our strategies to reach each other in ways the other is most likely to receive.

While the mind patterns describe the “how” of our individual ways of processing information, the thinking talents describe more of the “what” of how individuals apply themselves to their work.

By combining neuroscience with the Gallup organization and Ned Herrmann’s research, Markova and her team developed a system to help people identify their particular strengths. When people are able to use their best innate talents at work, they have greater job satisfaction and their companies are often more successful.

Identifying your personal thinking talents involves noticing what your natural gifts are and which activities result in your greatest joy. Then, you discern that those you’ve selected — no matter how often or long you do them — always increase your energy and don’t deplete you.

This is an essential discernment phase, as I found that there were things I was good at, but that I dreaded doing. They sapped my energy and never renewed me. These are not the things you’re after, and they’re important to weed out.

The four quadrants that comprise the whole system are:

  • Analytical thinking
  • Innovative thinking
  • Relational thinking
  • Procedural thinking

Professional Thinking Partners, Markova’s organization, has found that most of the clients they’ve worked with tend to excel principally in one or two of the quadrants. The most effective organizations, their research suggests, have people contributing in all four quadrants, which improves the company’s innovation, problem-solving, resilience and collaborative co-creativity.

The pandemic created prolonged separations, along with uncertainty, loss and anxieties. Today, all people yearn to be seen, heard and respected for their unique gifts and contributions. Perhaps it’s time to consider a caring inventory of your team’s thinking and collaborative diversity, looking at intellectual diversity, to enhance the health of your staff, company and culture.

Nina Simons is the co-founder of Bioneers.org and directs their Everywoman’s Leadership program. The author of Nature, Culture & the Sacred: A Woman Listens for Leadership, 2nd Edition, due out June 7, 2022, she is an award-winning social entrepreneur who has worked innovatively in the nonprofit, corporate, and philanthropic sectors.

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