The Ketchup Principle: why diverse teams perform better

ketchup-617231_1920As a manager, and for that matter as a recruiter, one of the easiest solutions for finding the right people for your teams in the past, has been to look for people similar to previous successful applicants. This method can work well in the short term but in the long run, may not provide the best outcomes because it limits a company’s diversity. There’s been a lot of talk about diversity in the workplace, so why is it so important to have diverse teams?

Scott Page, a professor of complex systems at the University of Michigan, ran an experiment several years ago to test the success of diverse teams vs. ‘high-ability ‘ teams. He created two complex algorithm groups, one expert group and the other a good, but diverse group. The two teams were put to work solving complex equations; and when the results came in Page found that the diverse team regularly outperformed the high-ability team.

Why did this happen? The best explanation I’ve heard was on this Podcast. I encourage you to listen to the whole episode, but if you want it in a nutshell, it goes something like this:

Imagine you’re at a potluck dinner and you’ve brought some fries. They’re a bit dry, so you go to get some ketchup from the fridge. Upon opening the fridge you find there’s no ketchup. No problem, there’s still mayo and mustard. You use one of those.

Now, imagine that you go to the fridge and it’s empty. This is the first time you’ve not found ketchup in the fridge. You’ve never heard of ketchup being kept anywhere else. Therefore, you infer there’s nothing you can put on the fries. Now as I understand it, people from the USA keep their ketchup in the fridge, whereas us Brits are more known for keeping our ‘tomato sauce’ in the cupboard. If we had Brits and Americans at that potluck dinner, they may have found the sauce quicker, solved the problem and moved on to more important things, like joining the party!

The same applied to Page’s test results. The more diverse team, frequently had someone within it whose approach quickly dealt with the problem because they look at it from a completely different angle. So they breeze past it with little fuss. That’s what diversity does for a business; it creates a rich culture that helps to solve problems faster.

Applying The Ketchup Principle when assessing your talent pool

We’ve written before about the importance of confronting your own prejudices and how this affects your judgement when assessing applicants for a role. Being aware of your biases and being able to put them to one side is the first step, but applying the ‘Ketchup Principle’ gives you even more of a reason to take your time and consider candidates who are not similar or identical to those you have recruited in the past. In doing this, you not only increase the size of the pool of talent you are fishing from, but you also broaden the range of solutions available to your teams and organisation. With a global skills shortage evident, the ‘Ketchup Principle’ gives us even more to consider in the diversity stakes.

So when it comes to recruiting, the moral of the story here is simple. When you are struggling to find the right people, always remember that the ketchup is not just kept in the fridge. Diversity breathes creativity and more efficient problem solving into teams and businesses. Branch out and take a look in the cupboard. You may just find what you are looking for!

  1. kai 12 months ago

    Gr8 blog!