The contrarian’s dilemma: Why different viewpoints fuel success

water_optTo paraphrase a memorable quote, “You can please some of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all the time.” In other words: No matter what new product or service you plan to bring to market, there will be segments of your existing or potential customer base that are not going to be completely satisfied.

No one wants to believe this. But despite a desire for 100% customer satisfaction, we need to face the fact that customers are complicated. Besides that, they change—as do their needs and expectations.

The problem is that when we set out to achieve this lofty goal, we may create a consensus bubble in which we surround ourselves with those who see things exactly like we do. This is not uncommon in business, given the fact that we are likely to hire those who mirror our experiences and viewpoints.

However, when it comes to the kind of dynamic thinking required for success in today’s fast-changing world, great minds don’t think alike as much as surround themselves with those that think differently.

Consider this: If you accept that you can’t create a product to please absolutely everyone, wouldn’t you want to know what the most likely questions and concerns will be before you bring that product to market? And how’s that going to happen if your product development team is comprised of people who are great at what they do but also great at agreeing with you?

Right about now, I hope you are hearing your mom’s voice in your head saying “If everyone were jumping off a cliff, would you jump too?” All it takes is a couple of voices who feel safe and confident saying “Hey! Cliff ahead!” and so much carnage can be avoided.

So why are so many meetings characterized by back slapping and me-toos? Why do companies spend millions of dollars on market research to confirm what they already believe? Because in the comfortable world of groupthink, everyone around us constantly validates what we’re thinking, saying, and doing. But—whether you are in an already-disrupted industry, mid-transformation, or in denial that disruption is coming for you fast—you must embrace diversity of thought and opinion in order to be as nimble as today’s marketplace demands.

This will require a significant shift for many organizations, hiring managers, and for staff at all levels.

Rather than seeking out employees who fit well-established roles, we need to look for people who are independent, curious, and adaptive, and create roles that maximize their potential contribution. They might not have majored in the “right” thing in college. They may not have held the obvious jobs that would lead them to work with you. In fact, they might take quite a contrary view to the approach you’ve championed for decades. And these are all good things when it comes to rounding out your organization’s business-world-view.

Not only must these “outsiders” be actively recruited, they must be welcomed and their (as well as all employees’) healthy skepticism must be not just accepted, but encouraged. Instead of penalties for disagreeing with the boss, consider rewards for those who can find three things they disagree with about a current strategy and their suggested alternative approaches.

By exploring a wide range of perspectives, you will—at minimum—find weaknesses and possible pitfalls you can mitigate for. And at best, new patterns, new ideas and new opportunities will emerge that will fuel your businesses’ next big idea and continued success.

About Author

Mike Sweet
Credo’s CEO, Mike writes about the fast evolving worlds of education and business, and what steps we can take to empower people to succeed in the knowledge economy. Follow him on Twitter: @_Mike_Sweet