Science and Business Need Diversity of Thought to Maintain Credibility and to Flourish
June 8, 2022 •John Siverling
Amidst today’s culture wars, a growing chorus advocates for censorship of thoughts, viewpoints, and speech. What may be surprising is from where those demands are coming today. It was not that long ago when people arguing for censorship today were fighting against the very idea in media, music, books, and art. Conversely, those that were pushing for increased censorship of music and books with viewpoints they disagreed with in the past now find themselves being increasingly censored in social media and in the public square. Another surprising turn of events is the growing support of this new censorship from business leaders who have historically advocated for free markets, and media that have historically fought for freedom of speech and expression.
Implications for not embracing and advocating for diversity in thought and idea are almost universally negative and cross over many facets of life. Most visibly in the last few years is in the fields of science and in business.
In the field of science, we’ve seen during the Covid 19 pandemic the devastating effects for science when we lose diversity in thoughts and ideas, when we no longer test ideas but instead declare a hypothesis as a fact. Decisions around pandemic policy such as lockdowns, masking, and vaccines were made based supposedly on science but in conflict with historical scientific research i. Distinguished scientists, such as those that authored the Great Barrington Declaration, were ostracized for their slightly divergent views. Two years later we now have research that has found that “30% of people in forced isolation develop strong symptoms of PTSD over the course of weeks."ii. Or this study finding that “children born during the pandemic have significantly reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared to children born pre-pandemic."iii. Science has always focused on testing ideas that are unproven. Some of those divergent perspectives that were dismissed early on are now gaining credibility, but the damage to the field of science and to some in our society as noted above remains..
Maintaining that diversity of ideas and continued testing of hypotheses is something we should remember from the days of Galileo in the early 1600s. Instead, we’ve allowed the field of science to lose credibility as the coercion towards preferred viewpoints diminishes the ability for dissenting voices to be heard. Science has always focused on testing ideas that are unproven. The testing process provides more data, but it rarely if ever ends in absolute truth. Instead the testing leads to conclusions which expand our knowledge and allow further hypothesis and testing as science works to gain more understanding of facts.
In the field of business, it is within the very nature of capitalism and competitive markets that new ideas lead to innovation and change. Diversity in thoughts and ideas lead to understanding new customers and unmet needs. It provides the accelerant for entrepreneurs to think outside of the box and identify new ways to approach and solve problems. Especially in today’s technology-oriented marketplace, it doesn’t take much effort to quickly identify many of the ways the innovations that have come from diverse viewpoints and ideas has affected the way we live and work, and the resulting growth in productivity and our standards of living.
More broadly within business and capital markets, there are many illustrations of how the lack of diversity has caused businesses to miss opportunities and lose their leadership positions in markets. As one example, in the early 1990s domestic automakers missed the signs that foreign luxury cars could displace their strong position of leadership in the U.S. They were narrowly focused on each other as their competition, which was the status quo. My own experiences in the automotive industry showed me that their organizational bureaucracies stifled dissenting voices from within. This led them to miss key signs of changes in customer needs and interests, as well as the potential risk of the new entrants. In the mid-’90s, Cadillac and Lincoln controlled approximately half of the U.S. luxury market, with some European brands and upstart Asian brands having small market shares.iv Today, the top selling luxury car brands are BMW, Lexus, Mercedes Benz and Audi. In 2020, Cadillac sold around 130,000 vehicles and Lincoln sold around 105,000. By comparison, BMW sold about 280,000 with Lexus and Mercedes selling around 275,000 each.v It may not have changed the results, but what if domestic automakers had broadened their thinking to hear from those that didn’t buy their cars? What if they sought out divergent viewpoints and studied innovations that may not have fit their existing paradigms?
Allowing diversity in thought can be messy. It can be slower than a command-and-control system. But the best way to innovate is to allow for (no, proactively seek out) diversity in ideas to compete in a free market. Some ideas that are developed aren’t successful. It is the marketplace that determines which ideas win and which ideas lose. Businesses and their leaders risk alienating customers and harming their brand and their value by engaging in ways that can be polarizing. The willingness to allow diversity of thoughts and the freedom of speech, no matter our own beliefs and faith, must remain a paramount feature of how we approach science and business. Providing protections within business practices and systems for the diversity of viewpoints can help prevent mission drift on this important issue.
i Source: https://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/masks.htm/, accessed May, 2022
ii Source: https://brownstone.org/articles/lockdowns-closures-and-the-loss-of-moral-clarity/, accessed on May 26, 2022
iii Source: https://brownstone.org/articles/more-than-400-studies-on-the-failure-of-compulsory-covid-interventions/, accessed on May 26, 2022
iv Source: https://www.motor1.com/news/465119/mercedes-bmw-lexus-2020-sales/, accessed on May 23, 2022
v Source: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-05-02-fi-1357-story.html, accessed on May 26, 2022
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