Consensus is dangerous in business

Consensus is the last thing you need for your business.

Consensus sounds nice, but is the last thing you need for your business.

"We are the urban elite.  We live inside an echo chamber", said Dave Trott in Campaign.   He was telling us off for surrounding ourselves with people who look and sound like ourselves.

What’s to be done?

More women in the boardroom. Even the best companies in our sector aren’t anywhere near equal in gender mix at that level.

An apprentice scheme.  We’re very proud of our apprentices at MediaCom. And the fact that they make our mix of people more diverse strengthens the teams working together immeasurably. 

There isn’t a business in the media and advertising sector that can be complacent about the proportionate mix of its workforce in terms of BAME diversity

No one in our sector is doing enough for people with disabilities.

Without doubt we need to work harder at this, and without doubt it will pay dividends in terms of making the business stronger.

Meanwhile, and in addition, even if we look and sound alike, we can stop agreeing with each other.

JFK’s short life is notable for several iconic moments (aside from the conspiracy theories over his untimely death):

The first televised presidential debate between JFK and Nixon, said to have changed the course of politics as image became more important than it had ever been to getting elected.

The rumour of an affair with Marilyn Monroe. 

His support for West Germany after the building of the Berlin Wall by the Soviets: "Ich bin ein Berliner". 

The Cuban Missile Crisis.

Fifty-five years ago the CIA launched a strike against Fidel Castro, the Soviet-backed leader of Cuba and the ouster of the US-backed President General Batista. 

The Bay of Pigs invasion went badly.  American trained troops were overwhelmed by Castro's army, and swiftly surrendered. As a response Castro requested Soviet nuclear missiles be placed in Cuba to deter future harassment. Construction of the facilities began in the summer of 1962.  When the news broke in America of Soviet missiles being installed 90 miles from Florida a crisis began.  A US blockade began, and so did long and very tense negotiations. 

Then for 13 days in October 1962 the situation worsened and the world was on the brink of nuclear disaster.

In the deliberations in the White House during this period various options were considered.  These included bombing the missile sites and a full-scale invasion of Cuba.

Kennedy opted to deliver an ultimatum rather than launch an invasion.

Disaster was avoided when Soviet leader Khrushchev agreed to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for a promise that the US wouldn't invade Cuba (and a secret agreement to remove US missiles from Turkey). 

You can imagine the discussions and tensions.  Many Americans stockpiled food and drink and expected Armageddon.  US defence secretary Robert McNamara said, "I thought it was the last Saturday I'd ever see" when on 27 October an American reconnaissance plane was shot down over Cuba and the US invasion force was prepared.

Afterwards JFK talked about the crucial importance of challenging your colleagues, not just your opponents.  This sounds like reflection from a man who was in the centre of conflicting advice, and a furious and crucial debate. 

Whilst it's unlikely that you're about to face decision-making in your next meeting that is a fraction of the importance of the Oval Office discussions during that October, it's useful to bear in mind that there's nothing healthy about consensus. 

If your office culture means you're surrounded by people who don't challenge you, then you're never going to get to a good decision.  It's irrelevant whether the lack of challenge comes from niceness and kindness or fear and trembling.  Either way it's dangerous – for your business, your career, and your customers and clients.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom.

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