Teaming up with Learning Algorithms

Johns Hopkins University - Applied Physics Laboratory

The Dimensions of Diversity


For over 75 years, JHU-Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) has been driving category-defining innovations. As the organization gears towards its 100 years, APL begun to think about how its people will play a role shaping the future generation of systems and advanced intelligent technologies.

As such, APL gathered a bright multi-disciplinary internal team to answer that very question. The team was asked to conceptualize a strategic framework to build and operate teams, by looking into diverse cultural perspectives to inspire creativity and drive innovation.

The newly created team engaged in a series of design sprints and workshops, which resulted in a comprehensive plan to tackle the challenge. The first step towards the ultimate goal was to build internal platform to discover, understand and promote team diversity of thought. Core to the platform was to build a series of learning algorithms to understand individuals and teams in a whole new dimension.

Diversity of Thought – The New Frontier

Our intuition tells us that diversity matters and that makes sense in business terms. Conceptually, diversity of thought is shaped by culture, experiences, personality traits, and exposure to different beliefs and perspectives. Studies show that diversity of thinking along with inclusion is proven to unlock innovation across the organizations. Today, more diverse companies are better to attract top talent, employee retention, competitive edge, and sustain profits.

In collaboration with JHU – APL team, TheIncLab designed a tool to allow teams to see what they are literally made of. One of the tool’s goal was to provide a system to seek and integrate different thinking perspectives, which can lead to better decision-making, problem-solving, innovation and engagement. The test concept was simple: if you can integrate as much information about a person beyond its education level, tenure and begin incorporating experiences, cultural encounters, learning aspirations and personality traits, in addition to various tools to assess an individual communication style, then we could start looking at ways about how that information relates to how teams interact and perform over time. In essence, leverage the individuals’ richness and many dimensions to drive performance and innovation on teams.

Delivering Innovation Through Diversity

The APL team, which was trained in Human Systems and Design Thinking methodologies worked alongside TheIncLab design and engineering team to produce a prototype of the tool in under 3 months. The system uses a modern Javascript framework to build analytics and graphics in real time and present information to team members and users about the various dimensions of the individuals and the teams. Collectively, the algorithm delivers an index and provides additional insights about how to potentially expand on certain traits or team dimension. Teams looking at expanding its diversity can use unbias ways to screen and see how potential candidates can augment the diversity index of the team.

The new tool is currently under testing alongside a mobile app to inspire inclusive behaviors.