Seeing More Clearly by Seeking Disconfirmation

Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness, discussing an interesting psychological aspect of the News of the World scandal with Marketplace's Kai Rysdall (July 20, 2011):

Read an excerpt from Marketplace's The Big Book blog"The very size of the organization may be part of the problem. It's virtually impossible to have any kind of clear line of sight across all the operations of a [53,000-person organization]. In addition, you have to take into account what we know about human psychology. People are obedient; they will follow instructions even when they're unethical. This is what the New York psychologist Stanley Milgram proved in the '60s, and the data has been robust ever since. You can add to that other experiments we know about conformity: given the choice between giving a wrong answer that keeps you part of the group, or a right answer that makes you an outsider, most people would rather give a wrong answer. There is enormous psychological pressure on individuals to do what the organization wants and what their boss wants.

I think we all need, as managers and executives, to learn to be very good at negotiating conflict. The people who see most clearly are those who seek disconfirmation. They want people who are prepared to argue with them. They want data that challenges their beliefs. That's how they keep alert, paying attention -- because if you're surrounded by a lot of yes men and women, the chances are, they will all keep you blind to the stuff that collectively you just do not want to see."

Listen to the whole interview here...

Managing Dissent

“We need to create the space for what I call managed dissent. If we are to shift paradigms, if we are to make breakthroughs, if we are to destroy myths, we need to create an environment in which expert ideas are battling it out, in which we're bringing in new, diverse, discordant, heretical views into the discussion, fearlessly, in the knowledge that progress comes about, not only from the creation of ideas, but also from their destruction—and also from the knowledge that, by surrounding ourselves by divergent, discordant, heretical views, all the research now shows us that this actually makes us smarter.

Encouraging dissent is a rebellious notion because it goes against our very instincts, which are to surround ourselves with opinions and advice that we already believe or want to be true. And that's why I talk about the need to actively manage dissent.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is a practical practitioner of this philosophy. In meetings, he looks out for the person in the room—arms crossed, looking a bit bemused—and draws them into the discussion, trying to see if they indeed are the person with a different opinion, so that they have dissent within the room. Managing dissent is about recognizing the value of disagreement, discord and difference.”

~ Noreena Hertz, from “How to Use Experts and When Not to,” TED Talks, Nov. 2010