Contrary to “conventional wisdom,” opposites don’t do NOT attract. While individuals who are different than you might initially seem intriguing, in the long run these differences will invariably push you apart. This fact has been scientifically proven. Science aside, consider your personal relationships. If you prefer to be organized, do you praise your messy partner for his clutter? Probably not. And if you have a propensity for disorganization, don't you cringe at your partner’s earnest pleas for orderliness?
The fact is, opposites don’t attract. They repel.
What implications does this have on business success?
Think about the people you surround yourself with at work. Are they like you? Do they think the same way? Do they have similar interests, skills and strengths? Probably.
In fact, if you look at any group of people who work effortlessly together, odds are the individuals share a lot in common with one another. They might have similar backgrounds, expertise, hobbies or personalities. This is natural. As a result, teams that lack diversity are the norm.
This desire for similarity has inherent advantages. When people think the same way, act the same way, speak the same way, and use the same language, things get done more quickly.
But is this ultimately good for business?
To answer this question, consider research done by Clint Bowers and two of his colleagues at the University of Central Florida. They studied how the homogeneity of personalities within work groups affected performance by combining the results of thirteen studies involving five hundred teams.
At first glance, there wasn’t much difference in the performance of diverse teams compared to homogeneous teams. But that wasn’t the whole story. The types of tasks the teams had to perform had a significant impact on performance.
Bowers and his colleagues went further and distinguished “low-difficulty” tasks from “high-difficulty” tasks based on how much the tasks activities involved uncertainty, complexity and demand for high-level processing.
For relatively simple tasks, homogeneous teams consistently performed more efficiently than heterogeneous ones. Apparently, what this study showed was that when you are surrounded by a bunch of “yes men” and “yes women,” you will be more efficient. You agree quickly and get things done.
However, according to Bowers and his team, in situations involving high-difficulty tasks, diverse groups consistently performed more effectively. That is, people who think differently could innovate better.
This makes sense if you really think about it. Developing something new requires a wide range of thinking. Innovation demands a diversity of perspectives, disciplines and personalities. Having a group of people who think the same way only produces more of the same.
However, given that opposites repel, partnering with people who are different than you is probably an unnatural act. If you are a dynamic, creative, freewheeling individual, you might find that a methodical planner will drive you crazy and their imposed deadlines may feel cumbersomeconstraining.
This polarization hints at a useful mantra: The person you like the least, is the person you need the most.
Someone who is different than you may at times seem annoying. But this person is probably quite complementary to you. They have skills and perspectives that could provide balance and help you become more effective and innovative. They will challenge you, which is crucial to business success.
As a small business owner, this concept is even more critical. You have a limited number of people within your organization. If you only hire people who “fit the mold,” you may find that you are being efficient, but you'll most likely hit a growth plateau.
Therefore, it is important to hire people who are unlike you. If your business is creative in nature (e.g., branding or advertising) make sure you hire those with a talent for planning and managing. If your business is operational in nature (e.g., manufacturing) ensure that you have people who are focused on innovation and growth.
One of the reasons for the dot-com bust was that too many creative individuals were launching interesting, yet impractical businesses. They got caught up in the idea but were less skilled in personally driving their businesses with data, processes, and goals. Had they done this, through the help of a co-leader who was more practical, many more companies would have survived. Or perhaps they would not have been launched in the first place.
Successful small businesses embrace divergent thinking. They recognize that creative tension, when harnessed properly, will help them grow in the long run. Does your organization suffer from “chronic sameness?” If so, it might be time to bring in people who can stir things up. This is the key to innovation.
Stephen Shapiro is the author of Personality Poker: The Playing Card Tool for Driving High Performance Teamwork and Innovation (Penguin Portfolio). You can read over 500 articles at SteveShapiro.com, play the free Personality Poker video game, or follow him on Twitter.