“What if, just as everyone is checking in for the conference, a meteorite hits the Convention Center!! Then, what?” She asked the question with a straight face. Everyone else was silent, unsure how to respond. At first the leader didn't know how to react either and then she said something that changed the group's dynamic from that point forward.
The leader responded, "Yes and what if all of the attendees are stuck there for months and we run out of food!?" To the team's surprise, the leader was playing right along with this absurd scenario. Then, picking up on the leader's cues, another team member says, "Yes, and what would happen with all of their flights and what about contacting their families?" To which another person chimed in and said, "Sounds like another Snowmageddon." Bingo! The meteorite comment was just the sort of wacky scenario they needed to begin planning for possible emergencies.
This was one story shared from my colleague, Janice Shack-Marquez, during this month’s CBODN book club meeting on the book Originals by Adam Grant. One of the concepts in the book (and there were many—you can read the discussion summary here) that resonated most with me is the idea that the easiest way to encourage non-conformity is to introduce a single dissenter.
The key to this working though, lies with the leader. The leader is the one to create a safe space where others are encouraged to introduce a wacky idea, or an unpopular idea, and not lose face, or worse, their job! But why would a leader want to do this? In Originals, Grant talks about the benefits of introducing debate to fuel the flames of innovation. The crazy ideas are used to fuel a productive debate—the kind of debate that can lift blind spots, test your logic, and drive creative, original solutions. In Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about healthy debate as a critical success factor to every successful leadership team.
Easier Said Than Done?
At some point or another, we have probably all raised the Devil’s Advocate card. There’s something safe about using that caveat in conversation. Yet, in many workplaces, even with the caveat, it’s still not easy to show dissent. Many times in the workplace saying “yes” to a leader or hearing the leader’s comments as a directive is absolutely the necessary thing to do. But not always!
Do you work in a “Yes, Boss” world? Whether you’ve grown up in one, created one yourself, or are stepping into one as a new leader, you have the power to change it.
Please: Try This at Home!
This technique was shared at the CBODN book discussion I mentioned: Create the expectation that any given time in meetings and project discussions, a random person will be asked to provide a counter argument or alternative solution to whatever is being discussed. Everyone then is prepared to play the Devil's Advocate card or share a "disruptive" point of view. Then, your job as the leader is to be OPEN to the counter attack. NEVER shut it down with a dismissive, “Yah, but." Instead, say, “Yes, and" and encourage others to jump into the conversation to build off of the crazy idea.
Try it out! We want to hear from you!