Consensus Is Dangerous Journal Post | TideSmart Global

Consensus is Dangerous

It may sound cliched, but it’s true that the best reason to develop, build, or launch a project as a team is to benefit from the diverse viewpoints of all involved.

It may sound cliched, but it’s true that the best reason to develop, build, or launch a project as a team is to benefit from the diverse viewpoints of all involved.

“Reasonable professionals (emphasis on reasonable) can still support and execute a project they don’t love, and execute it well.”

“Let’s all agree on a course of action for this project.”  I’d bet you’ve heard those words at work before.  It seems like a smart approach.  In order for your work team to all pull together, you should perhaps all agree where the heck it is you are going, right?

Well, yes, it’s partially true.  You can’t have half of your space exploration team planning a trip to Mars while the rest pines for a mission to the Moon.  That’s a sure recipe for a misguided space shuttle floating off to Jupiter, never to be seen again.  But the vision of a team moving in lockstep towards a project goal is one that is not only never going to happen, but also one that is not particularly valuable.

It may sound cliched, but it’s true that the best reason to develop, build, or launch a project as a team is to benefit from the diverse viewpoints of all involved.  A room full of diverse viewpoints, experiences, and ideas can spark the most amazing chain reaction creativity and create tremendously valuable results.  Is it messy, complicated, and slow?  Sometimes.  OK, maybe more often than just “sometimes”. But that individualistic thinking can pay off in spades when surrounded by a culture that encourages it and channels it productively.

Imagine if you commissioned a roomful of accomplished artists to paint you a picture of a sunset.  They’re each going to envision a unique design, and execute this vision differently based on their individual experiences and skillsets.  Every single one will look different.  And if you chose just one painting to appear in your gallery, it not only doesn’t negate the value of the other works but also won’t convince the other artists that their depiction was “wrong” or not warranted.

The same goes for professionals in the workplace.  They’re never going to all agree on the best way forward for a concept or project – heck, they may not even all agree that it should go forward at all.  But that diversity of opinion will give you the best possible array of options to work from.  And when you choose a path – and someone needs to be empowered to make that final decision – many will not agree with the approach.  And that’s OK.  Not everyone needs to agree at work.

Reasonable professionals (emphasis on reasonable) can still support and execute a project they don’t love, and execute it well. Project leaderships needs to be OK with the fact that these folks may never agree with the direction taken no matter how well justified it may be. In fact several studies have shown that the harder you work to convince some people that their opinions are wrong (no matter how many facts are on your side), the deeper entrenched they become in those opinions (see: flat earthers, moon landing conspiracy theorists).

So don’t waste your time chasing consensus.  Outside of a military chain-of-command, that cohesive group approach doesn’t exist.  Messy, creative chaos isn’t always pretty or easy, but it can lead to a beautiful end product, like my new gallery wall of sunset paintings.

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