When is it right to disagree, and when is it right to jump on board? We often live in tension between our desire to be approved/accepted by others, and a nagging doubt about an important topic that others seem “sold” on.
In the past I have written about this tension. There were two new thoughts that I enjoyed on this topic while reading the book, and I wanted to share them here in the event you’ll find them helpful.
HiPPO. This is an excellent acronym which takes it’s inspiration from the deadly hippopotamus – and animal that looks slow and sleepy but in fact is fast and dangerous. In the corporate world, the HiPPO is the “Highest-Paid-Person’s-Opinion”, and is how many decisions are made. One of Jim Barksdale’s memorable quotes was “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” As the authors quote,”it’s the the quality of the idea that matters, not who suggests it”.
The ability to drive this sort of thinking is hard to do. The best place to start is if you find yourself as the highest paid person in a discussion. Tread lightly, and listen.
The word “listen” is a good segue into the next topic, which is character. Listening is a form of humility, which itself flows from good character. Another hallmark of good character is honesty, which brings us to the place of tension I referenced earlier. Quote from the book:
For a meritocracy to work, it needs to engender a culture where there is an “obligation to dissent”.
In the book, there is a footnote that’s attached to that sentence:
“We heard this phrase from Shona Brown, who picked it up from her years at Mckinsey & Company. McKinsey’s website says it quite well: ‘All McKinsey consultants are obligated to dissent if they believe something is incorrect or not in the best interests of the client. While you may be hesitant to disagree with the team’s most senior member or the client, you’re expected to share your point of view'”.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Of course, once dissent has been raised and explored, there comes a time when discussion is no longer helpful, and a successful outcome requires everyone getting behind the idea (unless there is a deeper ethical issue at play). At that point, I often fall back upon one of the great lessons I learned from the military: “disagreement is not disloyalty until after the decision has been made”.
Life is short. We should do good work and contribute. During the brief time we have in our careers, we owe it to our co-workers and ourselves to offer dissent when it is constructive and based upon participation in the whole process.