Cake, Cognitive Diversity and Problem Solving for Teams

You’re throwing a party for a friend, and eight people will attend. You’ve baked a cake. You love all your friends equally and dearly, so you want everyone to have the same amount of cake. But here’s the catch: you must cut the eight equal slices with only three cuts of the knife. How do you do it?

This is an exercise in cognitive diversity.

If you’re like most people, you’ll attack cutting the cake like you would cut a pizza. But it won’t work — you can’t get to eight slices that way. Change your perspective. Drop down to eye level with the cake, looking at it from the side. Now, do you see a solution? Cut the cake in half with your third cut. Two cuts from the top down, making quarters, one cut down the center, width wise, making eight even slices.

Cognitive diversity involves turning problems around and changing perspectives to see a solution. But it’s not always easy — lots of things lead to perspective in our own brains. The way psychologists define perspective is the way we encode the world into our own internal language. Anything that you see, process, store and figure out from your own internal point of view. And this point of view is shaped by a wide variety of aspects, including physical things: what height you are, whether you’re a child or an adult, whether you’re in a wheelchair, whether you’re standing up. It all affects your literal perspective on how you see a situation.

So how do you stay aware of your personal perspectives and learn how to challenge them? Learn more about cognitive diversity and other mind tools you can employ to bring your A-game to the team by tuning into Shane Snow’s class, Creating and Leading Incredible Teams, now available on demand at Or, check our Shane’s new book, Dream Teams. It will change the way you think about teamwork, progress, and the future.

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