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Disagreement, Yes. Disrespect, No.

(Crossposted at SpreadingScience)

Amazon Is Right That Disagreement Results in Better Decisions
[Via Harvard Business Review]

When I worked in the federal government, I was amazed at the large numbers of factual errors in widely-read stories, even in the best newspapers. As a colleague of mine, a staunch Democrat, observed in 2009, “I now think that at least half of the things I most disliked about the Bush Administration . . . never happened.”

I tell this little tale because the lengthy New York Times story, detailing some apparently brutal features of the culture at Amazon, should be taken with many grains of salt. But even if the story is full of inaccuracies, and if we put the company’s alleged harshness to one side, Amazon’s approach offers indispensable guidance for companies both large and small when they are deciding how to make group decisions.

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Disagreement does not mean disrespect. Finding the right balance will help companies become successful and wise.

The disagreement must be based on and argued using logical rhetoric. Allowing logucal fallacies to be raised in a disagreement will result in a failed process and little wisdom.

As Brook’s law suggests, projects cannot be made successful by spending more time or throwing more people at them. What can make the projects successful is effective information flow, lowering the friction for important information to traverse the group. 

One way that works to do this is to have open discussions, including open disagreement. These prevents groupthink will enhancng the inflow of novel information.

But, logical fallacies or lawyerly tactics (ie belittling, bullying, anger, intimidation) will destroy the benefits of this process and eventually cause the company to fail.

Because the dissenters, the disruptors who disagree, will either leave for better pastures or be forced out. Leaving the company full of easy going, hard working drones who simply follow the easiest path rather than the wise one.

Image: Carsten Tolkmit