You Never Know Where You Might Learn Something
I love zombie movies. I think it’s the fact that I can immerse myself in two hours of mindless entertainment or, it could be the fact that zombies are just plain cool. Either way, I really, enjoy them.
With this in mind a few years ago I finally got around to watching “World War Z” with Brad Pitt. It’s not particularly good as Zombie movies go (or movies in general for that matter), so I was dumbfounded when this particular movie actually taught me a good business practice.
Just Because The Group Agrees Doesn’t Mean They’re Right
In one scene Brad Pitt’s character is talking to someone in the Israeli secret service about why Israel built a wall when the rest of the world didn’t believe in Zombies. The officer indicated that Israeli military doctrine has a rule that if ten people are in a room and nine of them agree, it is the duty of the tenth man to disagree with the others.
In this case, the tenth man convinced the other nine that Israel was in real danger and that they should build a wall to protect themselves. If you’re interested, here is the scene from the movie.
Real or Just Hollywood?
Knowing what a problem groupthink is in corporate America, I dug into the concept to see if it really existed. To my surprise it does, and it has an even more intriguing name – “The Devil’s Advocate”.
The concept of grew out of the 1973 Yom Kippur war – an event that almost destroyed the state of Israel. Despite Egypt’s build-up of troops and material on their border, the Israeli military refused to believe they were about to be attacked. Golda Meir, Israel’s Prime Minister at the time, was certainly an invasion was about to take place but yielded her opinion to the military. Shortly after, Egypt and Syria struck and Israel barely avoided being wiped out.
In response to this incident, the Israeli Defense Force formalized a process in which different opinions are not only welcomed but required.
If Everyone Is Thinking Alike Then Someone Is Not Thinking
Some of the biggest mistakes in business can be attributed to “going with the majority opinion”. The crazy thing is, people are smart and experienced to know when an idea is flawed, but they stay quiet and yield to the majority or the highest ranking person.
This problem is exacerbated by senior managers who use their authority to intimidate others into accepting their ideas and views.
Too Afraid To Disagree
Why do people stay silent when they know the department, team or company is headed in the wrong direction? One word – fear. Like so many other things in business, fear causes smart people to do nothing when they should be screaming about an idea’s flaws.
What are they afraid of? The normal – that standing up against a group or superior will result in their career being derailed or ended.
Offering A Different Opinion Is Not Just A Good Idea, It’s An Obligation
Whether you’re a CEO, VP, department head, team lead or individual contributor, it is your responsibility to create an environment where people not only feel comfortable disagreeing with you but, are obligated to do so.
Process Solves Everything
It’s important to know, this is not a license to argue for the sake of arguing. Rather, it needs to be a well thought out process focused on having ideas and opinions stand on their own merits. Confused on how to establish such a routine? No problem, the following steps will help you quickly establish your own highly effective “Devil’s Advocate” practice:
Step 1: Make It OK To Disagree
This may come as a shock to you (not really), but most people don’t want others to disagree with them. And here’s something else – the bigger the title, the less tolerance for dissent. However, here’s the thing – if you really want to run a successful organization or department, you have to make disagreeing a job requirement.
Step 2: Designate The Right People
There’s a difference between offering a different opinion and being a jerk. We all know that person (or people) who disagree for the sake of arguing. These ARE NOT the right people to have as you “Devil’s Advocate”.
The right dissenters have a proven track record of success, a reputation for being well thought out, and most important – can frame a dissenting opinion in a professional manner. Said another way, they should be among the organization’s best and brightest.
Step 3: The Opposing Opinion Is Based on Evidence and Data
Simply disagreeing is not enough, anyone can do that. Contrary opinions must be based on facts, laid out logically. Remember: facts are friends.
Step 4: Have A Formal Process
It’s important to note that this isn’t a hallway conversation or a casual discussion. Rather, it’s a formal process that chooses from three specific courses of action:
a. Continue as planned
b. Delay action until more information is gathered (a firm deadline must be placed on this so the topic doesn’t linger to slow death
c. Change course based on the Devil’s Advocate’s recommendation
Step 5: Evaluate the results
Once a decision is made, it’s not just a matter of executing and walking away.
Potentially the most important step is to review the result and decided whether the action taken was the correct one. A key outcome is identifying what can be done to enhance the process going forward.
Doing this will build trust in the person, the position and the process.
It Begins With You
Not the head of a department, division or company? No problem. Find someone you highly trust and implement the process above. Trust me, once you begin to experience success, others will want to know what you are doing, allowing you to become the spark that ignites the fire of change
Defeat The Zombies Before They Arrive
Hey, Brad Pitt may not arrive in the nick of time and save your company or initiative, but a good solid process for eliminating group-think and allowing for differing options will ensure you never need saving in the first place.
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I’ve spent my entire life in the Fortune 500, and I want to share everything I wish I knew when I was younger in the hopes that you can find success far faster than I did.
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