Today's Reading

The homogeneity at the CIA led to occasional headshaking from politicians who were aware of it. They worried that the CIA was not representative of the society it was created to protect. They believed that if there were more women and ethnic minorities, it would encourage a broader population to feel able to report their concerns, and to imagine working there themselves. They wanted a more inclusive workforce. But CIA insiders always held what seemed like a trump card. Any dilution in their focus on ability, they said, would threaten national security. If you are hiring a sprint relay team, you select the fastest runners. If they are all the same color and gender, so what? To use any criteria of recruitment beyond speed is to undermine performance. In the context of national security, they said, putting political correctness above safety is not an acceptable option.

This idea that there is a trade-off between excellence and diversity has a long tradition. In the United States, it formed the basis of a seminal argument by Justice Antonin Scalia for the Supreme Court. Either you can choose diversity, he contended, or you can choose to be "super-duper." If a diverse workforce, student population, or whatever emerges organically through the pursuit of excellence, that is one thing. But to privilege diversity above excellence is different. Diversity above all, the argument goes, is likely to undermine the very objectives that inspired it.

In a relay team, you end up losing the race. If you are a business, it's even worse: you jeopardize your existence. A bankrupt company cannot sustain any workforce, diverse or otherwise. And when it comes to national security, there is a risk that you will imperil the very population you are tasked to protect. And how can that be an ethical course of action? As one former CIA analyst told me, "There was a strong feeling that there should be no compromise. It didn't make sense to broaden the workforce—whatever that means—if it meant that we might lose our cutting edge. It wasn't pig-headedness; it was patriotism."

As late as 2016, security experts were making the same point. In a column for the 'National Review,' Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst who would become chief of staff for the National Security Council under President Trump, criticized an initiative to increase diversity at the CIA. "Protecting our nation from such threats requires extremely competent and capable individuals to conduct intelligence operations and write analysis in challenging security and legal environments The CIA's mission is too serious to be distracted by social-engineering efforts."

Part of the reluctance to recruit ethnic minorities was fear of counterespionage, but the skepticism went far deeper. Those who called for a broader intake were shouted down for undermining excellence. The CIA should be about the brightest and the best! Defense is too important to allow diversity to trump ability! As one observer put it, "Political correctness should never be elevated above national security."

What they didn't realize was that this was a false, and perilous, dichotomy.


This is a book about diversity. At one level, this might seem like a curious objective. Surely, we should aim to think correctly or accurately, not differently. One should only wish to think differently from other people when they are in the wrong. This seems like common sense.

Another seemingly commonsensical statement, made by Justice Scalia, argued that recruiting people because they are different, in one way or another, is to jeopardize performance. You should hire people because they are smart, or knowledgeable, or fast. Why would you hire people who are less knowledgeable, fast, or talented, just because they are different?

In the coming pages, we will show that both these intuitions are false, at least when it comes to the challenging problems we care most about. If we are intent on tackling our most serious questions, from climate change to poverty, from curing diseases to designing new products, we need to work with people who think differently, not just accurately. And this requires us to take a step back and view performance from a fundamentally different vantage point.

Consider the way we traditionally think about success. If you look at science or, indeed, popular literature, the focus is on individuals. How can we improve the knowledge or perceptiveness of ourselves or our colleagues? Fine books such as Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, Sources of Power by Gary Klein, and Mindset by Carol Dweck have become best-sellers. All examine, in their different ways, how we can improve individual abilities through time.


1. Collective Blindness
2. Rebels Versus Clones
3. Constructive Dissent
4. Innovation
5. Echo Chambers
6. Beyond Average
7. The Big Picture

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