Diversity: That strange person might be telling you something

Want to be succeed? Disputing the idea that "homogenization in the name of diversity" - that the best students go to a small number of top institutions - is beneficial, 2008 IdeaFestival presenter Jonah Lehrer makes the casethat a diverse social network is a better predictor of success, going so far as to suggest, based on a study he points out, that business people with diverse networks are measurably more innovative than their secret-society brothers and sisters.

The simple reason is that the "obvious answers" are far less prevalent in settings where people originate from different social strata and - gasp! - hold differences of opinion. Lehrer:

It’s not enough to simply take the smartest kids and make them smarter. What’s just as important is teaching these young people to seek out strangers, to resist the tug of self-similarity and homogenization. Diversity can seem like a such a vague and wishy-washy aspiration, but it comes with measurable benefits. To the extent our meritocratic institutions diminish our social diversity – are your college buddies just like you? – they might actually make us less likely to succeed. Perhaps Bill Gates knew what he was doing when he dropped out of Harvard.

Here's my take. Lehrer rightly (my view) points out that social groups with higher "information entropy" - or that exquisitely timed conversation, take your pick - will offer more opportunities for ultimate success.

But what can be said about the presence at IdeaFestival 2010 of Titanic and Avatar co-producer Jon Landau; the author of "Push," on which the movie "Precious" was based, Sapphire; synesthete, prodigious savant and author of "Born on a Blue Day" Daniel Tammet; the dynamic and supremely creative new star, Janelle Monae; theoretical physicist and author of "From Eternity to Here," Sean Carroll? What about the man who committed the "artistic crime of the century,"Philippe Petit?

That's hardly diverse. That's an embarrassment of riches.

Wayne