The Evolution of Complementary Cognition

Dr Helen Taylor has spent the last ten years creating “The Evolution of Complementary Cognition” at the University of Cambridge as a researcher affiliated with the McDonald Institute. This new evolutionary theory explains the importance of differences in cognition to organisational success and ensuring teams are optimised to meet both immediate and long term objectives.

Businesses can harness different cognitive processing styles to improve complex problem solving and build high-performance teams. Her research is backed up by a large body of empirical evidence indicating that such teams result in increased sales growth, innovation and market valuation.


Complementary Cognition: Specialisation
The Evolution of Complementary Cognition explains that our ancestors evolved to specialise in different, but complementary ways of processing information, that work together as what’s called a complex adaptive system - a kind of collective brain. 

The reason we evolved different ways of processing information, is because it increased productivity, our ability to adapt to change and our ability to survive. The implications of this for organisations, and for business, cannot be over-stated - Complementary Cognition brings a clear competitive advantage for businesses that embrace it.

Importantly, this research shows that some ways of processing information have been mistakenly identified as disorders, for example, dyslexia and ADHD. These ways of processing information are critical to collective human cognition and increase the capacity of groups to adapt and solve complex problems. 

Complementary Cognition: Collaboration

The evolution of individual cognitive specialisation created an overall increase in the complexity of information that could be processed at the group level. Specialisation increases the efficiency and capacity to maintain and create information for survival, be it for early human groups or modern-day businesses.

Different ways of thinking act as complementary parts in a whole, and work together as a system. Our brains are specialised to process information in complementary ways, in a similar way that team members perform complementary tasks. Consequently, humans are able to collectively process a much broader range of information and achieve far more complex tasks. 

Helen’s research not only explains the importance of understanding different ways of thinking, but the importance of utilising these differences effectively. Specialisation requires collaboration, as humans are interdependent on one another’s complementary abilities. Helen’s research investigates the ways businesses can build teams to collaborate, using understanding of collective human cognition to function optimally. 


Please find the original article here.


Find out more about the Dyslexia at Oxford HCP project here.