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The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies

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In this landmark book, Scott Page redefines the way we understand ourselves in relation to one another. "The Difference" is about how we think in groups--and how our collective wisdom exceeds the sum of its parts. Why can teams of people find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone? And why are the best group decisions and predictions those that draw upon the very qualities that make each of us unique? The answers lie in diversity--not what we look like outside, but what we look like within, our distinct tools and abilities.

"The Difference" reveals that progress and innovation may depend less on lone thinkers with enormous IQs than on diverse people working together and capitalizing on their individuality. Page shows how groups that display a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. Diversity yields superior outcomes, and Page proves it using his own cutting-edge research. Moving beyond the politics that cloud standard debates about diversity, he explains why difference beats out homogeneity, whether you're talking about citizens in a democracy or scientists in the laboratory. He examines practical ways to apply diversity's logic to a host of problems, and along the way offers fascinating and surprising examples, from the redesign of the Chicago "El" to the truth about where we store our ketchup.

Page changes the way we understand diversity--how to harness its untapped potential, how to understand and avoid its traps, and how we can leverage our differences for the benefit of all.

448 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 15, 2007

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Scott E. Page

8 books107 followers

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5 stars
75 (25%)
4 stars
122 (41%)
3 stars
71 (23%)
2 stars
26 (8%)
1 star
3 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 34 reviews
12 reviews
August 9, 2011
Great theme, but tedious to read. Just learn these few items and skip the book:
- having a very diverse group of people involved in a project yields better performance
- the more diverse the better
- cognitive diversity is more important than demographic diversity
- different kinds of cognitive diversity include
1. different paradigms (different schema for modeling the world)
2. different values (different outcomes you are trying to maximize)
3. different processes (different approaches to putting things together)
Profile Image for Vagabond of Letters, DLitt.
594 reviews270 followers
December 19, 2019
'Cognitive diversity is the diversity that matters, enhancing the creativity and efficiency of group problem solving; demographic diversity causes group incohesion, "strange results" [like physical violence --Ed.] and group dynamics that create no end of problems.'

This book tries to straddle the line between and even reconcile the two diverse diversities, a Sisyphean task other researchers (Murray, Putnam) have shown extraordinarily difficult at best, even under controlled laboratory conditions (i.e., impossible).

Page focuses on intellectual diversity (the inverse of an echo chamber) while paying lip service to the multicult and ethnic diversity without actually backing it up (he knows even better than I that it can not be backed up with science, cf. Putnam, 'E Pluribus Unum', the Johann Skytte Prize Lecture for 2006).

His thoughts on intellectual diversity are very good arguments against the partisan echo chambers of politics and the academy. His work on diverse group problem solving is vitiated though not crippled by failing to take in to account all available evidence and equivocation of terms, as well as discounting or not mentioning alternate hypotheses (e.g. groups more accurately represent an efficient market when diverse because of paranoia and distrust of other participants, and then insure they're not getting a bad deal - something that spells disaster for society outside of the laboratory).

Page does convincingly demonstrate that intellectual homogeneity is one step away from groupthink and cripples (or strongly hinders) creative and efficient problem-solving. Echo chambers slaughter meaningful original thought.

Politicians bait and switch along these lines, substituting racial/ethnic diversity for intellectual diversity, an entirely false equivalency.

His conclusions, ironically, avoid, but do not contradict the conclusions of Jared Taylor in 'White Identity', a book I am reading in conjunction. However, Page is a primary source and somewhat more transparent than Taylor, who executes a masterful synthesis of both primary and secondary sources - but a synthesis nevertheless, instead of original research (not that grants would be available for Taylor under any circumstances).

A solid two stars. Four or four and one-half in parts dealing with cognitive diversity and diversity of opinion and belief. One star in those parts in which Page, consciously or not, stumbles in to other kinds of pluralism, like multiculturalism and enforced 'diversity' (as in 'Department of Diversity and Inclusion') and acts as an apologist for them.

(Pre-Nov 2018 review)
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
March 26, 2018
I read both of Scott Page's books on diversity back to back. This one is more rigorous and academic with lots of charts and graphs, which was cool. The other one (The Diversity Bonus) is much more accessible. In this book, he uses a variety of experiments and mathematical equations to prove not just the wisdom of crowds, but the wisdom of diverse crowds. The point, which he proves in a variety of ways and with meticulous charts and definitions and frames is that groups of diverse individuals (diverse=identity, heuristics, background, information, etc) outperform even higher rated groups of homogenous individuals. So a group of top math students from the same background with the same heuristics will be beaten at a competition that involves a cognitive or predictive contest by a group of diverse individuals. By the end, you are thoroughly convinced of this point. Well, I thought it was obvious in the beginning, but I guess now I have the math to back it up.
Profile Image for Neil R. Coulter.
1,064 reviews104 followers
August 15, 2013
The Difference is an often-fascinating book about why groups of diverse people may perform better than groups of technically “smarter” people at certain kinds problem-solving tasks. I found it an intriguing read even apart from looking for ways to incorporate Page's ideas into my own leadership role in a diverse environment. I do recommend it, especially to leaders, but really to anyone interested in a mind-bending look at how groups function. But it is not a perfect book, and I'll mention some of my main criticisms here.

The first half of the book sounds like a professor who has taught this content so many times that he has thoroughly internalized it. He can teach it backwards, forwards, in any situation. It's a pleasure to read. The second half of the book, and especially the concluding chapters, sound more like a professor who is still scrambling to get his lecture notes together as students are entering the classroom. It's a little bit uncomfortable to read, especially after such a strong, confident start.

As a non-math-guy, I have to humbly admit that when I got to Chapter 8, I began to glaze over. I'd enjoyed and, I think, understood everything up to that point, but I wasn't getting what Page was communicating in Chapter 8. Maybe I'd reached my limit of hypothetical crowds, experts, prediction methods, and so forth. I just couldn't keep myself focused for Suebee and the Three Stooges' bowling predictions. From Chapter 9 I picked up the thread again and had no problems with the final chapters. But the final chapters had problems all their own.

Page has promised so much for his conclusions, and I never really felt that the payoff fully arrived. In his conclusions, he suddenly has little to say except to point to other people's studies and research projects, much of which is relegated to the end notes. Check out the first paragraph on page 323, for example. These are the questions that I thought would be at the heart of the conclusions—not just references to other studies buried in the end notes! It's almost laughably brief. On page 325 he gives us this formula:
Net Benefits of Diversity = Gross Benefits of Diverse Tools – Costs of Diversity
Really, that's all we get? It doesn't seem like we needed all the build-up to reach that conclusion. We limp on to page 328 and read: “In the end, we're left with the fact that across many studies the average performance for identity diverse groups and homogeneous groups is roughly the same, but the identity diverse groups have higher variance.” Come on, Scott, don't give up on us! We've stayed with you to this point; you can't let this be the big finale!

Some comments on style: I'm glad when academics can write books that communicate well to general, nontechnical audiences. Too often, however, Page errs on the side of being too-cute and too-clever. Many times I felt like I was looking in on a Page Family Reunion, and while I'm sure it's a nice family, these inside references take me out of the moment and pointlessly draw attention to Page's personal life and cleverness. That persona is probably very charming in the classroom; in print, it doesn't work nearly so well. Now that he has his first-time author giddiness out of his system, I hope the next book will avoid cute inside jokes about most of the 285 (I'm exaggerating) people mentioned in the Acknowledgments (the Acknowledgments which are then followed by a Prologue, which is followed by an Introduction).

Also in future books, Page may not want to name all of his editors (here he lists four), which then makes the typos and other errors all the more glaring. Editors may grumble about not getting the credit they deserve (and that's true), but anonymity is a nice thing when errors abound. But at least some of the mistakes were entertaining. On page 202, for example, the “wisdom of crowds” momentarily becomes the “wisdom of crows.” On page 229, 105 waffles transform into pancakes, and then back into waffles. There are a lot of tables in this book, so inevitably there will be problems with the table data. One that stood out to me: on page 212, Page's claim about data in Table 8.10 looks incorrect. Adam Jones's actual number (6) is not in the range between the low (9) and high (16)—unless I'm missing something (which is definitely possible). And finally, having lived in Papua New Guinea for a decade, I have to take exception to the mention of “Papa New Guinea” on page 345. Ouch. The number of errors in this book should embarrass Princeton University Press.

On another, fairly insignificant, side note for Princeton University Press: I like nicely designed book covers, and I like it when they make sense and have something to do with the content they envelop. So I've been puzzled every time I pick up The Difference, trying to figure out why on the front cover part of two of the letters in the word “Difference” are yellow while the rest of the word is red. And why, when the title is written again on the back cover are those letters entirely, not just partly, yellow? My toolbox is apparently not diverse enough on its own to come up with the underlying logic of this cover.
Profile Image for Mike Edwards.
Author 1 book14 followers
November 18, 2011
The information contained within this book deserves 5 stars. Page demonstrates that diversity (by which he means diversity of background and perspective, not necessarily ethnic diversity) in group decision making is just as powerful, and in many cases even more powerful, than expertise. In other words, a diversified panel of decision makers will in many cases come up with better solutions than one containing only the best and the brightest. It's a brilliant idea.

The problem with the book, unfortunately, is the writing. The book is clearly attempting to clarify academic research for the non-academic audience, but despite his best efforts, Page fails to make the material accessible.
Profile Image for Steve Warnick.
172 reviews1 follower
February 14, 2020
I’ll be reading his last academic version of this next for a talk. I agree with reviewers- this is very academic and a bit tedious at times.
345 reviews3,030 followers
August 23, 2018
Most equity portfolio managers will at some time come in contact with the question of gender quotas in corporate boards. Those who argue for quotas claim that these would increase the profitability of corporations. Is there any substance to this claim? As convincingly argued by Scott Page, Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan and external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute, the answer is yes – but perhaps not due to the factors the most vocal proponents of mandatory so called affirmative action think.

More diverse groups make better decisions, everything else alike. But any claim that these improvements materialize out of something like gender quotas hinges on three conditions: first that there is a link between identity diversity and - what we are really after - cognitive diversity, second that the diverse competences are also relevant competences for the specific job at hand and thirdly that the friction that diversity brings can be overcome. The link between identity and cognitive diversity can be overstated. People of different sex can think alike and people belonging to the same race, age, gender, religion, social class etc. can think differently. Yet, identity diversity clearly increases the probability of cognitive diversity. The politically correct minefield, whether all this should lead to the use of quotas in corporate boards, I leave to others. There is also a minor detail called ownership rights to factor in.

So is this book mostly relevant for an investor due to its applicability to corporate governance? No, the understanding of why diverse groups take better decisions and the conditions that either supports or invalidates this effect, is crucial for the understanding of financial market functionality and the markets’ constant oscillating between rationality and irrationality. This pendulum, in turn, is the basis for understanding why investment strategies building on momentum and reversal to the mean works.

If you ask a group of sufficiently many, diverse and capable persons to make a prediction or an estimation of a tricky question and then average the individual solutions, the errors made by each person will matter little. Every individual’s analysis is made up of one part information and one part error. As long as the various people’s errors are independent of the other person’s errors they generally net out. What remains is the aggregated information. How good the answer then is depends on how much of this information the group had. Often it is quite a lot. Note that, with regards to market rationality, this does not require an arbitrageur or rational agents.

The author presents a Diversity Prediction Theorem which states that the collective error equals the average individual error minus the prediction diversity. Hence, the collective error is reduced if the individual error is decreased or if cognitive diversity increases. Competence and diversity contributes in equal amounts to the quality of the solution and the average individual error will be larger than the collective error. The last topic is a cause for reflection when it comes to the ability to earn money out of the reactions to quarterly results where an individual investor competes with a collective consensus estimate and a collective market pricing.

Communication between the participants on a market is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it can increase the competence of the individual person to learn from a more informed one. On the other hand they will start to think more alike. Diversity will decrease. When diversity due to mass psychology breaks down everybody thinks alike and the errors made will not cancel out. The pricing becomes irrational and value investors will soon take notice.

Unfortunately this book of almost 400 pages is a heavy read. It is academic, theoretical and littered with abstract theoretical examples. A certain amount of dry humor offsets, but not fully.
Understanding both the wisdom and the madness of the crowd is paramount for forming a view of the market. Being able to detect phase shifts between the two states would be an investment nirvana. Page’s contribution to the puzzle is clearly important.
6 reviews
July 20, 2007
This is a good popularization of complexity theory, particularly applications to social science/policy and life in general. It can be a bit draggy in parts, but Scott does a very good job making what seem like abstract and potentially useless concepts seem quite applicable and sensible.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
10 reviews
November 18, 2010
The book covers an interesting topic, suggests cool hypotheses, and provides a decent summary of the empirical evidence. I feel it struggled a little in trying to straddle the divide between academia and popular appeal.
Profile Image for Shelley.
115 reviews35 followers
July 30, 2012
Research and documentation proving what you might think would be obvious, but usually isn't--that diversity is a virtue to all of us and should be cultivated, not simply tolerated. Very readable.
Profile Image for Kayla.
8 reviews1 follower
July 28, 2019
Second half of the book very underdeveloped.
107 reviews2 followers
December 2, 2015
400 pages of pseudo science to "prove" that two minds are better than one. I stopped reading this on about Page 180
Profile Image for Evan Micheals.
513 reviews10 followers
February 22, 2021
I enjoyed Scott E Page’s lectures on Complexity Theory he provided for The Teaching Company enough to purchase his books. I became concerns he was defining diversity in a narrow sense of identity. The more I read I found the arguments supporting identity diversity were not supported by the evidence he presented. The diversity of identity identified early in the book seemed limited to the big five (Race, Sexuality, Religion, Wealth, and Indigenous status). It seemed ironic that identity lacked diversity. It did not consider diversity of height, beauty, geography, sports team affiliation or hip to waist ratio or any of the infinite points of diversity.

Was this a sneaky ploy? In the final chapter Page states “Employers often use identity as a crude proxy for cognitive diversity. It’s true that the types of cognitive diversity that we’ve considered may sometimes correlate with identity, for reasons we’ve already discussed. Even so, we probably can do better than to rely on coarse identity classifications to categorise people. People are multifaceted and multi-tooled. We all have different experiences and training as well as different identities. Experiential and training differences also translate into diverse toolboxes. By mapping people into identity groups, we’re guilty of too much lumping” (p 363). Seeing the world through the Big Five limits diversity.

Page comes out strongly in support of seeking cognitive diversity in teams. "The evidence agrees with our logic: cognitive diversity improves performance at problem solving and predictive tasks. The evidence for identity diverse groups, though is far from unequivocal. Some identity diverse groups perform well. Others do not" (p 314). I read the book more intently as I was seeking the arguments to support identity diversity. In the end he makes the statement “I do not advocate sacrificing ability for diversity, but rather balancing the two” (p 370) and concludes by telling the reader to avoid silos of people like ‘us’, however you identify an ‘us’. This is not about diversity of what we look like, but how we think.

There is a lot of Math (Statistics) in this book. My own limitations made the math difficult to follow in the middle chapters. I need to understand statistics better. Last two parts of the book is where the ideas gained from the math is given. I found he gives arguments similar to Matt Ridley's 'ideas having sex' argument, but Ridley explains it better and is more articulate. I kept coming back to the Martin Luther King quote “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the colour of their skins, but by the content of their character”. This book supports the premise that diverse kinds of character create better groups, firms, school, and societies.
3 reviews
March 22, 2018
The approach taken in this book is to use mathematical logic to show how and when different kinds of diversity can have a positive effect on an outcome (problem solving or prediction, mainly). I appreciated the logical approach, which is a much more robust argument for diversity than anecdotes, and can well complement a social-justice argument. On the downside, I think the book runs a little long, and could have been mode more concise with better editing. I, for one, didn't get added value by the winking asides that I guess are meant to inject some levity. I also thought some of the "verbology" used was too close to lingo that didn't always carry meaning for me. However, every time I encountered such statements, my confusion was quickly cleared up by just continuing to read the hypothetical example that was presented immediately after. In the end, I tabbed a lot of pages for future reference, and the book will stay on my shelf. I would strongly recommend this book for anyone looking at diversity in their organization, or would like a better understanding of when and why diversity can be beneficial.
Profile Image for Robert Bogue.
Author 17 books10 followers
June 29, 2018
In America, we’re supposed to appreciate the value of diversity, but this runs in conflict to the way that we actually behave. We associate only with people who are like us. We fill our organizations with people who are like us, because we’re more comfortable that way. However, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies encourages us to consider how diversity can create better answers than we can accomplish with a set of same-minded individuals.

Click here to read the full review
Profile Image for Jason Watkins.
96 reviews1 follower
July 2, 2021
Thorough explanation of cognitive diversity, mathematically explained

Not a page turner, but a comprehensive, mathematical exploration of the elements of cognitive diversity. Some discussion of identity diversity. I felt more could have been explored between the linkage of the two…maybe another book, but the author at least acknowledges the co-dependency.
Profile Image for Pedro Martinez.
466 reviews7 followers
January 15, 2022
An insightful essay on why diversity trumps ability when confronted to difficult problem solving or you are in need of prediction accuracy. A fair toolbox to promote cognitive diversity in your surrounding, although, I found it a bit indigestible despite the author’s attempts to make it a light read.
Profile Image for Phee.
19 reviews3 followers
October 23, 2018
Profile Image for Travis Tazelaar.
42 reviews
April 11, 2019
Great book to start reading about the power of diversity and what to begin learning about how to achieve diversity's power. It's not easy but the rewards are immense.
104 reviews30 followers
January 30, 2017
Scott Page describes in detail the circumstances in which diversity brings advantages to groups in terms of problem solving and prediction. Page argues that it is cognitive diversity that brings benefits, though this often can be expected to correlate with identity diversity. Page is refreshingly hard-nosed about data and mechanisms, and is very upfront about where diversity can be expected to set us back.

The mechanism of gains from diversity is worth spelling out in the review. Page describes cognitive diversity as differences in perspectives, heuristics, interpretations, and predictive models. These are ways of seeing the world, data, problems, etc; ways of arranging and clustering data; tools for solving problems; and the models in which we deploy all of the above. When we have cognitive diversity, we are often able to leverage these differences in productive ways. Given diverse perspectives, for example, groups avoid getting stuck on problems that are especially tricky for one or another perspective (think of math problems that are especially tricky when rendered in terms of radial coordinates versus Cartesian coordinates). And in cases of making predictions, Page shows plausible conditions in which the diversity of a group is just as important as average individual accuracy.
Profile Image for Beth.
98 reviews2 followers
May 9, 2013
Michael Page certainly needs to be more front and center when it comes to discussing issues of diversity and inclusion. Utilizing his knowledge and experience in economics and statistics, he is able to prove that having more diversity of thought enables organizations to achieve bottom line success. He also hits the nail on the head when it comes to illustrating that the real issue with moving from diversity to true inclusion has to do with encouraging healthy conflict, proper management, and overall organizational openness to upending the status quo.

The one downside of this book (and why I didn't give it five stars) is that it is at times too academic. If there could be a second edition of this book aimed at a middle manager (who does not have an advanced degree in econ/stats), it would revolutionize the way our country, our government, and our organizations think about and manage diversity.

I cannot recommend it enough!
33 reviews1 follower
February 19, 2011
Thought-provoking book about the power of diversity (and by diversity the author means diverse viewpoints, experiences, outlooks, approaches to solutions, ...) rather than gender/race/ethnic diversity. Clearly gender/race/ethnic diversity can, and often does, lead to diversity in approaches, but this book uses diversity more generally.

The book is a bit tortuous in its arguments because the author purposely is avoiding math beyond algebra, but it makes for a much longer book and I found myself craving a monograph version that uses calculus, probability and statistics to make the points in 1/10th the time/space.
Profile Image for James Igoe.
89 reviews19 followers
November 16, 2014
Generally, I found the book most engaging for understanding perception, heuristics and decision making, although this did not seem to be the primary premise of the book. As for the writing, it was a bit long-winded, using analogies to make points, even though the concepts themselves are readily accessible without elucidation.

As to its purported focus, it provides academic, empirical, and statistical support for diversity, not necessarily racial or ethnic, with the premise being that diversity of viewpoint within groups is powerful, so much so that it trumps individual excellence.
Profile Image for Paul Hartzog.
169 reviews13 followers
May 21, 2017
I was working/studying with Scott when he wrote this but hadn't re-read it since the original draft chapters. I re-read it and am still amazed. Not only does Scott's wonderfully funny and animated persona shine through his writing, but he manages to deliver complex content in delightfully accessible terms.

This is a truly readable book, (and believe me SO MANY books in this genre are not)! Moreover, the topic is crucial to our collective future: diversity and difference are powerful resources, and we need to understand and leverage them!
14 reviews16 followers
October 29, 2013
Careful analysis of how diverse teams perform better at problem solving and prediction.
The added value of the book is that it gives a deeper insight in the mechanisms.
Loves how he uses fitness landscapes to explain the underlying mechanisms. Cool.
You do need to persevere as the first chapters introduces concepts that only will be used later in the book.
335 reviews
February 7, 2016
Sometimes hackneyed, sometimes fascinating, this book is more technical than your standard "pop economics" fare, but more accessible and readable than most academic work. Overall, I'm glad I read it. The author clearly practices what he preaches, drawing from a wide range of disciplines (although mostly from social sciences, math and literature).
19 reviews
August 4, 2008
Page's perspective of cognitive diversity is interesting and he brings a certain light heartedness to a very technical subject. The book felt to be about 100 pages longer than it needed to be though.
14 reviews1 follower
November 23, 2011
A little tedious in places but well worth the effort. Page illustrates the power and limitations of diversity, and provides some foundation for understanding where and why democratic processes (particularly elections) may fail to produce the expected result.
147 reviews7 followers
May 27, 2013
fascinating use of modeling techniques to the impact of diverse perspective and heuristics on a variety outcomes. impressively novel methodology and impressive broad perspective on what diversity means and on how diversity may effect outcomes.
Profile Image for Alice Korngold.
Author 3 books3 followers
April 12, 2014
An outstanding book that demonstrates the value of engaging people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives in problem-solving. This is particularly relevant to my work in consulting with boards of directors.
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