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Facebook Engineering VP Explains Why "Cognitive Diversity Is The Most Powerful Tool"

Regina Dugan, head of Facebook's secretive Building 8, on the importance of diversity to the creative process.

Facebook Engineering VP Explains Why "Cognitive Diversity Is The Most Powerful Tool"

Be a resource: "It's important to understand that we can each choose to rescue [someone]," says Regina Dugan, VP of engineering at Facebook.

[Photo: Melissa Golden]

As the head of Facebook’s secretive new hardware unit, Building 8, Regina Dugan leads a team of engineers who are trying to develop breakthrough technologies, much as she did when she was the first female director of DARPA. She’s learned that assembling a diverse group of perspectives is essential to the creative process.

"There’s very little difference between scientists and engineers and artists—they just use different tools," Dugan said at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in November. "We [all] want to make things that haven’t been made before, and that’s tremendously exciting. It’s exhilarating, it’s invigorating, and it’s hard. Diversity is absolutely key to innovation. It’s just hands-down true. When we are working on very difficult problems, it’s essential that we have different voices in the room. In my teams it is common to see Oscar-winning directors working side by side with coders, or physicists working with textile manufacturers.

"The ultimate goal is cognitive diversity, and cognitive diversity is correlated with identity diversity. That means it’s not just about [getting] women in tech. It’s about broad voices, broad representation. But we can’t step away from the idea that in the workplace, diversity also looks like identity diversity. You have to get to the place where you aren’t made comfortable by the fact that everyone is the same, but rather feel inspired by how different we are. We get better problem-solving that way."

A version of this article appeared in the February 2017 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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