I was startled to read in David Freedman’s excellent book Wrong – Why Experts Keep Failing Us that of the top ten airline crashes in the world (killing a total of 2,400 people), six of the ten occurred when one or more of the crew members realized that they were doing something wrong but were afraid to speak up.
Then I got to thinking about an early “collaboration” process adopted by a consulting organization in the early 90’s that we learned to nickname “Team Buy Team Fail”.
In this process, the notion of countering someone’s assertions was deemed to be too negative and could potentially prevent a great idea from blossoming. For this reason, ideas that were put forward could not be refuted with a “but” but could only be built upon and added to by using “and”.
The idea was brilliant.
Unfortunately, the process assumed that the initial idea put forward was right or appropriate in the first place, otherwise the subsequent builds on the wrong idea took it further in the wrong direction.
It’s like saying “When a snowstorm is present, I like to drive over the speed limit”, someone else adds “and on bald tires”, a third person adds “and while texting friends” and a final contributor adds “and while blindfolded”.
Everyone likes to feel that they contributed to the solution. Unfortunately, being afraid to call it like it is, to loudly proclaim that “the emperor is naked (or an idiot)”, can prove to be fatal. Also unfortunately, it seems that the person with the initially bad idea is often less likely to be punished than the people who went along with it.
Collaboration - the solution to everything – maybe
We teach people, young and experienced alike, that one should always seek consensus or collaboration-focused approaches when solving difficulties on a personal, professional or global level.
And it’s true that many times, such a belief will produce a better result than had we chosen to go it alone or against the tide for the heck of it.
However, the same belief can run aground when one of the people present on the team / project is extremely persuasive (or manipulative), intimidating …. and wrong.
That’s why, as a long time strategy guy, I love the use of data and the ability to answer the questions “why” and “how do we know”. It’s an objective, confrontation-less process (unless people don’t like data or being challenged, in which case it may become very confrontation-filled). I also prefer to not assume someone is right just because they “sound right” or the majority follows them blindly (ala Jim Jones syndrome).
Unfortunately, there are many people who fear data and difficult questions but find convenience in excuses when their intentions collide with predictable reality.
Saying the right thing (respectfully but forcefully), especially when not welcome, takes courage, audacity and an inner strength that we may be surprised we had.
However, the world won’t become a better place merely because we agree with people who are persuasive, intimidating or believe they have been nominated to represent the opinion of the majority.
I’m not saying that we should needlessly take up a counter position on everything just for the sake of argument as John Cleese does so well in Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic”.
However, as history teaches us, being in the majority is not always the same as being in the right.
Do you stand up for what is right?
If you don’t, then why not?
What do you think the impact of what you stand for (or not) will be now and in the future?
What do you think the impact of not knowing the answer to the previous question will be?
In service and servanthood,
A long distance dedication to A. – you know who you are.
If you need encouragement to stand up for what’s right or you don’t believe you are as good as the alleged, often-quoted gurus and experts, I highly recommend David Freedman’s excellent book Wrong – Why Experts Keep Failing Us. It is an eye opener to say the least.
This description from the publisher:
Our investments are devastated, obesity is epidemic, test scores are in decline, blue-chip companies circle the drain, and popular medications turn out to be ineffective and even dangerous. What happened? Didn't we listen to the scientists, economists and other experts who promised us that if we followed their advice all would be well?
Actually, those experts are a big reason we're in this mess. And, according to acclaimed business and science writer David H. Freedman, such expert counsel usually turns out to be wrong--often wildly so. Wrong reveals the dangerously distorted ways experts come up with their advice, and why the most heavily flawed conclusions end up getting the most attention-all the more so in the online era. But there's hope: Wrong spells out the means by which every individual and organization can do a better job of unearthing the crucial bits of right within a vast avalanche of misleading pronouncements.