“If we are all in agreement on the decision – then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”-Alfred P. Sloan
Alfred P. Sloan was Chairman of General Motors from 1937 to 1956. He made GM into the corporate behemoth it was (till the last few years anyway). He established graduate level executive training programs. He also pioneered the concept of planned obsolescence. He made spying on competition and on labor unions a standard practice. He is said to have encouraged the use of buses which caused the demise of streetcars. He was accused of supplying equipment and technology that helped Nazi Germany rearm itself. More or less anything that made GM bigger was fine with him. He said, “The business of business is business.”
So why did he say ‘…time to develop disagreement…? Doesn’t sound like him. Somebody that powerful and ruthless you would think would not harbor any disagreement. I think there’s a couple of lessons in that quote.
First is that thing about postponing discussion. I think if you have the opportunity and the decision is a big one you ought to think about it, discuss it, come to a decision, and then let it lay there. Let it percolate for a few days or weeks. Then come back to it and see if the decision still sounds right. Let it simmer.
The other thing is that one about disagreement. We think unity is good. But maybe not. Consensus is important. It’s important to come to a decision that everyone can live with so all can from that point forward work in a common direction. But unity on the front end is a warning sign. What does it tell us?
- Nobody else cares. You have a disaster in the making.
- Everybody is scared to speak up. You have stifled creativity, innovation, and independent thinking.
- Your group has become so insular, so cut off from the world around you that you are indeed in complete agreement. But you have also become so cut off from other voices that you cannot hear, cannot see that you have drifted far from your original mission, your original purpose. You can’t hear the wisdom of those outside your group. And you cannot reach, can’t touch those in the world around you.
I’m just sayin’.