Challenger in Chief

Over the last year and a half, I have hopefully challenged those who have followed my blog on a wide variety of topics.  It seems that I frequently allow my “liberal” leanings to come out and often try to engage in some controversial topics that will get those in the industry to question their tried and true ways of doing business.  I have defended healthcare reform and screamed out for realistic pricing of branded pharmaceuticals so that they could be utilized by a majority rather than only a minority of patients in the country.  I have pushed for individuality and innovation even if it meant going against the grain at established companies.  As this is the 200th blog I have now written, I have been searching for a compelling topic to address.  I think I might have found it.

Take a look at this Noreena Hertz Harvard Business Review blog that discusses the critical role a “Challenger in Chief” needs to play for both organizations and individuals.  First, it is critical that we see and understand how most people and leaders of organizations (who are people!) tend to surround themselves with those who agree with them rather than challenge them.  The examples given in the blog around Facebook friends and who we follow on Twitter are quite compelling.  Think about those you hire as vendors and who you have on your teams.  My bet is that they are there because they agree with your thinking rather than challenge you.

The concern is when looking at the research it shows that you make better and smarter decisions when there is dissension rather than consensus.  When there is an environment where people are constantly trying to poke holes in your theories rather than just always “going along,” the business thrives.  Perhaps the most visible example of this was seen this week when, after considerable pressure from the US people, Congress and the international community, the president backed off, at least temporarily, from using military force in Syria.  Different points of view led to a different path forward.

The blog goes on to talk about a number of very interesting ways bias enters the decision making process and how a challenger can help point out those blind spots.  When you are excited, don’t get enough sleep or your blood sugar is off there is the chance your decisions are influenced by factors other than solid thinking.  The more challengers you have the better the chance these mistakes can be averted.

Perhaps the key to this is to fully recognize the spirit in which the challenge is given.  It is very interesting that those who criticize my blog “opinions” are usually those I am closest to in the industry.  These are people who have endured both the downsides of business and the successes with me and perhaps this has shown them the importance of always trying to improve the thinking that goes into business strategy.  When challenges come in this way, they are viewed as a gift.

The world we live in, both within the industry and outside, is extremely complex and constantly changing.  There are very few simple problems that only require minimal thinking to solve.  The first idea or plan is seldom the best.  The old ways of doing things should be viewed as just one possible way.  New thinking needs to be constantly welcomed.  Organizations and individuals need to seek out diverse and different points of view.  We all have to get better at challenging and listening to challenges.  The stakes are really too high to ignore this lesson.

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