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Tim Harford:  I think if you have a culture where dissent is difficult or disagreement is difficult you’ve got a big problem because any organization is going to make mistakes and those mistakes need to be fixed as quickly as possible.  So, one way or another, you’re going to have to find a way where mistakes are revealed, exposed and then corrected.

I'm fascinated when I look, for instance, at what I know about Pixar: there's this collegiate environment, but people are able to disagree with each other and criticize each other’s work because they’ve developed a language.  They call it "plus-ing."  So rather than spending all this time to say, "Hey, I really love what you’re doing, it’s really great work, blah blah blah" before you finally get to the criticism - which people have long since ignored because you’re wrapping it in all this fluff - instead you get straight to the criticism but you express it very positively.  You just say, "Well, that’s great, and wouldn’t it be even better if we did X?  Wouldn’t it be even better if we did Y?"  In a very positive way, very honest and direct, "Wouldn’t we improve if we did it this way?"  Rather than getting fussed about whether the work as it exists is good or bad.  It doesn’t really matter whether the work as it exists is good or bad.  Can it be made better? 

We walk this fine line because people hate to be criticized.  They can fold up.  They can go into denial and they can shut out dissenters.  So you need that dissent, that disagreement, that criticism, but you have to find a way of making it and wrapping it in a way that will be accepted and listened to.  So be specific, targeted, focused and also positive.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

More from the Big Idea for Wednesday, January 09 2013

The Virtue of Dissent

In his book,¬†Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, Tim Harford presents a novel approach to problem-solving. Instead of looking to politicians and generals to lay out grand visions and sh... Read More…


Creating a Culture of Dissent

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