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21 Oct 2010

Improve Your Business; Find a Dissenter

A recent BNET post by Thomas A. Stewart talked about nurturing dissent and provided some valuable links. Rationally, it makes sense that if you want to drive your business forward you have to ensure that everyone is on the same page. However, evidence suggests the opposite.

Brooke Harrington, a professor at Copenhagen Business School has studied investment clubs and found that “the more dissent there was among investors, the better the financial returns.” Charlan Nemeth of Cornell University takes this even further by stating, “in general, we find that dissent stimulates thought that is broader, that takes in more information and that, on balance, leads to better decisions and more creative solutions.”

One of my favorite movies is the The Bridge on the River Kwai. In the commentary that came with the DVD, it’s reported that the producer, Sam Spiegel, liked to see conflict between the director and the lead actors. He found that it tended to produce better movies than when they were agreeable. In this movie, there was tension and arguments between the director, David Lean, and the lead actor, Alec Guinness; it won seven academy awards.

In everyday practice, we tend to prefer people who think along the same lines as we do. Conflict and controversy is something we tend to avoid. Those who dissent are often considered negative. Our natural tendencies are toward peace and harmony especially when urgent business priorities are upon us. However, subconsciously, as these studies show, dissent improves our cognition and creativity.

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