The Importance of Dissenting Voices

Be bold in the face of unanimous decisions, says entrepreneur and author Margaret Heffernan. Neuroscience, sociology and business meetings underscore her point. 

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In a recent business meeting, entrepreneur and author Margaret Heffernan saw first hand the importance of a dissenting voice. The majority opinion of a new project was not favorable but the prevailing attitude was that it could not be rejected. As the CEO went down the table and one dissenting voice spoke up, everything changed. "Researchers have found that just knowing that there is a dissenting voice is enough to induce different cognitive processes that yield better judgments," says Heffernan.  

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In the end, the project was rejected because majority opinion slowly coalesced around the dissenter's reasoned argument. The meeting, says Heffernan, demonstrated both the power and the fragility of groupthink. While we imagine we are immune from the power of suggestions, we typically are not. "If you ask volunteers in an fMRI scanner a simple question about a visual image, they will give the obviously wrong answer if they know that is what everyone else has done." Opening space for dissenting opinion is crucial for success. 

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