Although we all entered new territory over the past 18 months, it’s not the first time the world has come together to overcome challenging periods in history. As part of our virtual ITV Showcase 2021 event,  journalist, thought-leader, and author, Matthew Syed, tells a story from the Second World War to explain why diversity of thought is vital for unlocking progress.

From crossword player to code breaker: What happened?


  • In 1942, The Daily Telegraph hosted a crossword competition offering to donate £100 to charity if any of the 30 competitors could finish the crossword within 10 minutes. 

  • Accountancy clerk Stanley Sedgwick was the outstanding performer on the day. 

  • Although no one knew at the time, a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service was observing the competition. 

  • A week later, Sedgwick joined legendary minds including Alan Turing at Bletchley Park to help crack the infamous Enigma code.

Why was a crossword enthusiast recruited for such a vital role?

Matthew likens strong crossword solvers to “quasi-mind readers” as they can anticipate what’s coming up and arrive at the answers quickly. Ultimately, Sedgwick had a different mind to the likes of Turing and other mathematicians—and with that, he could offer alternative perspectives. 

“What Bletchley Park understood is that a team of Alan Turing’s would have been individually brilliant but they wouldn’t have the diversity to solve a multi-dimensional challenge like cracking the Enigma code,” he says. 

But Sedgwick wasn’t the one that was ‘different’. “More than half the people who worked there were women, there were brilliant cultural historians and linguists and ethnographers,” he says. 

Bletchley Park knew that diversity of thought was an asset, and would prove so much more powerful than filling the room with one kind of thinker. “This was a team precision-engineered to maximise the collective ingenuity of a human group and I think this is a pattern in the modern world,” he says. 


Why diversity matters today

Echoing Bletchley Park, scientists across the world have joined forces in adversity to share ideas and speed up progress to fight the pandemic. Difference remains a powerful tool for solving complex challenges

And when it comes to the world of work, Matthew believes the greatest organisations are those that are capable of breaking out of echo chambers to embrace difference. “Diversity; it’s not just a politically correct box-ticking exercise, it is a cutting edge asset of the most innovative organisations,” he says.

Watch the full video

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“Diversity; it’s not just a politically correct box-ticking exercise, it is a cutting edge asset of the most innovative organisations.” Matthew Syed, journalist, thought-leader, and author of the best seller, Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking

Diversity of thought in action: Marks & Spencer

As part of ITV Showcase 2021, Sharry Cramond, Marketing Director, M&S Food & Hospitality, joined a panel hosted by Adil Ray to discuss the themes shared by Matthew and fellow speakers. 

Like Matthew, she knows the value of building teams with genuine diversity of thought. “I often say to my team if we all thought the same, you’d only need one of us,” she says. “You have to have diversity of thought in your team because that’s what the customer base is like and we have to make sure that our teams are representing our customer base.” 

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Matthew has a range of best-selling books on developing high performance. Matthew’s latest book ‘Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking’ offers a radical blueprint for creative problem-solving. It challenges hierarchies, encourages constructive dissent and forces us to think again about where the best ideas come from. In this bold and inspiring new book, Matthew argues that individual intelligence is no longer enough; that the only way to tackle these complex problems is to harness the power of our 'cognitive diversity'. Available to order now.

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