Be careful about what you know for sure


One of the principle reasons to hire a consultant is to hear what you don't want to hear. Good consultants never accept at face value any opinion regardless of how forcefully stated or passionately held. The rule is, "show me the evidence and show me how you got it".

Both parts matter; both the data and how it was collected. There might be a lot of information, but it will be useless to misleading if the design and data collection was flawed. For example, a board may be presented with documentation of support from within the company for a particular course of corporate action, but if that information gathering extended no further than senior staff the range of opinion is too narrow. Middle managers might worry about integration or transitional effects. Front-line personnel might see effects on supply chains, delivery flaws or effect on customers. All these concerns need to be detailed, acknowledged and ameliorated for successful implementation.

There is another reason to systematically seek out what you don't want to hear: the status quo or the solution idea under consideration might not be the best available strategy. What you ‘know for sure' simply indicates the limits of what you can see as possible. Some really good ideas likely already exist within your organization, maybe already talked about around the break room, but not available to decision-makers. There are lots of reasons for this disconnect, the most common is hierarchical corporate culture. It is also inherently risky in many organizations to voice an opinion contrary to the view held by superiors.

Do you need a third reason: how about prompt feedback on how a new strategic or operational implementation is working out? Leaders need to know about problems and unexpected effects anywhere in the corporate structure to quickly modify or adjust strategies and tactics. No one needs to wait for the next quarterly results to find out about consumer reaction; your salespeople will know that immediately. In 2016 the US Department of Defense held an open competition to find flaws in its Pentagon security system. That mechanism was so successful, the award winner was a Virginia teenager, DOD has incorporated the concept as a permanent feedback loop.

As a leader, you have two choices: put some effort into structuring and supporting honest and ongoing information flow within your organization or wing it with what you and your immediate circle believe to be true. This axiom applies from small organizations to nation states. In the words of Kenneth Boulding: "The evolutionary race goes to the adaptable, not to the well adapted; to those who can learn, not to those who know."

For the future of your organization, yourself and all of us as customer citizens, please take the trouble to investigate accepted wisdom then listen to what you don't want to hear.

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