When Gene Roddenberry staffed the U.S.S. Enterprise with a highly diverse set of races, species & genders, he used Star Trek as his soapbox to challenge pervasive social injustices of the late Sixties. However, by doing so, he also provided another benefit of diversity: improved risk management.
When you consider the Enterprise’s original mission, it meets many of the criteria for a large, highly complex project:
- Scope – to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.
- Schedule – five years.
- A unique endeavor – its original mission statement “to boldly go where no one has gone before” reinforces how unique the mission was.
In multiple episodes from the original series, and later through some of the movies, we saw instances of where diversity was a key contributor in helping the crew overcome dire situations. One such example comes from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. Of the entire crew, Spock was the only person strong enough to withstand the radiation within the matter/antimatter chamber to jumpstart the Enterprise’s engines. Anyone other than a Vulcan would likely have been overwhelmed before the process could have been completed.
So how does diversity facilitate more effective risk management?
When identifying risks, use of checklists and historical data can help unearth uncertainties which would otherwise have been missed, but they are no substitute for a diverse range of expertise. If team members and stakeholders have similar educational and experiential backgrounds, there is a greater possibility of key risks remaining unidentified.
When analyzing risks or when monitoring early warning signs of risk realization, diversity is a good way to overcome risk biases and groupthink.
Finally the quality of risk responses is constrained by the creativity and imagination of the team. It is well known that properly harnessed diversity promotes greater creativity.
So the next time you have the opportunity to tackle a challenging project, resist the temptation to staff the project with team members who are just like you by making diversity one of the key criteria for resource selection.