The Tyranny of Consensus
In which Jill questions authority, and authority runs screaming.
Baseball legend Satchel Paige once said that “None of us is as smart as all of us.” As a management consultant I’ve learned that there’s a big difference between widespread consensus and the appearance of widespread consensus. Inexperienced or conflict-averse leaders (the latter is an oxymoron) stop short of doing the legwork to engage and educate their constituents. Instead they try instilling the often-false belief that “everyone else is on board, and you should be too.”
It’s surprising how many people actually cede to the tyranny of consensus. They rationalize their decisions in unexpected ways, blaming corporate politics, industry best practices, the lack of decision rights in their organizations, or quirky corporate cultures. They cave. Psychologists call people like this “cognitive misers.” They place the shortcuts of established thinking and entrenched behaviors over deliberate analysis.
Back when I was a consultant, my firm was often retained by people who—whether they own the term or not—are change agents. They see the promise of unraveling established paradigms and instilling new ones. They aren’t afraid to deconstruct scenarios, build use cases, map decision trees, or find stakeholders who aren’t afraid to ask difficult questions. Ask such leaders the question, “Is this the hill you want to die on?” and they’ll answer, “Good as any.”
When such leaders are effective their colleagues embrace their new ideas and are willing to test them out. But when they underestimate the incumbent power structure (or the degree of entropy) they’re dismissed as uninformed or, worse, just wrong.
It’s the wisdom of crowds turned upside down. Two or more people making a decision doesn’t mean that decision is the right one. Blame it on the path of least resistance. Blame it on the bad economy. But really, blame it on leaders who are unwilling to push their followers to consider new ways of doing things, reward innovation, and upset the status quo.
Think about this in terms of your latest business idea and ask yourself two questions: If not now, when? And if not you, who?