The Book Club -
Rebel Ideas with Laasya Shekaran

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In this episode, show hosts Dan Mikulskis and Mary Spencer welcome LCP's Laasya Shekaran to review the book “Rebel Ideas” by Matthew Syed.

Key takeaways

  • The core theme of Rebel Ideas is debunking the idea that diversity is solely about “doing the right thing” morally, but is actually a fundamental building block of better performance.
  • It is misleading to frame the argument as a trade-off between performance and diversity, as happened in the past. It’s a false dichotomy.
  • Innovation & the outside mindset: many successful companies and entrepreneurs were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants.
  • We discussed the big issue with the question of “cultural fit” when it comes to hiring. Framing it that way can work against bringing in these outsider, diverse perspectives.

Examples and stories that stood out and surprised us

  • How forming a consensus from a lot of people can be a good idea in some domains, and bad in others. Over-using averages can end up nonsensical and applying to no-one.
  • The US air force discovered that not a single pilot out of 4,000 was “average” in all of 10 cockpit dimensions, which was causing crashes.
  • The example of how the lack of diversity in the CIA may have helped the 9/11 terrorist hijackers. There were a number of points in time where a more diverse team could have stopped it or prevented it from happening. Eg something as simple as how non-western names were recorded by westerners caused problems.
  • The striking statistic cited in the book that a 10% lower success rate in applicants from a given group going into a company can result in a 90% less representation at senior levels.
  • Echo chambers and information bubbles: they aren’t quite the same. People do frequently get exposure to alternative views, but prove impervious to it. This is often due to the fact that a view is tightly bound up in someone’s identity, or because hearing the counter view actually strengthens the initial view.

One challenge to the case on cognitive diversity

It can be used as cover to duck questions about true demographic diversity, so needs to be handled carefully and ensure that both are considered. The same with the use of the word “meritocracy”, which can be used as cover to push back against real change for diversity and set up the false dichotomy between performance and diversity referred to earlier.

Favourite stories shared from the book

  • Why people who applied to call centres using Chrome or Firefox performed better.
  • How shadow boards consisting of younger people and those from more diverse background can be deployed to sit alongside a real board, feed into and influence their decisions. This is done to great effect by Gucci.
  • How a resistance to questioning authority caused the most deadly day ever on Mount Everest in 1996.

We discussed some of these applications to investing and finance:

  • Conformity and groupthink;
  • Constructive dissent and how dominance hierarchies influence group behaviour;
  • How unconscious biases harden into structural disadvantages.

One thing to take away

Both cognitive diversity and demographic diversity that affects structural barriers are important and organisations need to address both together.


Caroline Criado Perez - Invisible Women

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