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Stifling – a nifty use of NASA

This awesome story from another manifesto titled “Mind of the Innovator: Taming the Traps of Traditional Thinking”

#7: Stifling
Years ago I played a dirty trick on a group of managers at a fairly large organization. Through my consulting work, I had discovered that a particular set of individuals of the command-and-control type were causing some fairly serious issues: some extremely lucrative opportunities were being dismissed, each at a high “lost opportunity” cost. Root cause? These individuals TO A PERSON would not allow their subordinates to have ideas. They had various ways of shooting ideas down. (Read a GREAT manifesto called “100 Ways to Kill a Concept: Why Most Ideas Get Shot Down”)

This group of managers took issue with my report. Luckily, an upcoming off-site presented me
with the opportunity to prove it to them.

At the off-site, there were about 75 people of varying degrees of seniority, ranging from field
supervisors to senior execs. I gave the assignment, one of those group priority exercises
whereby you rank a list of items individually and then as a group and compare (sort of a “wisdom of crowds” exercise to show that “we” is smarter than “me”). This specific exercise required you to rank 25 items with which you’ve crashed on the moon in relation to how important they were to your survival. NASA had compiled the correct ranking, so there was a clear answer.

I did the exercise with a twist. At each table I put a ringer. I gave the lowest-ranking person the
answer. It was their job to convince the command-control types they knew the right answer.
During the group exercise, NOT A SINGLE CORRECT ANSWER GOT HEARD .

After debriefing the exercise in the regular way, I had each person to whom I had given the correct answer stand up. I announced that these individuals had offered the right answer, but their ideas had been stifled, mostly due to their source and stature and seniority, or lack thereof.
I wish I had a camera to catch the red-faced managers.

We do this naturally…stifle, dismiss, and second guess the ideas of others in favor of our own.
Generally speaking, whenever I conduct problem-solving workshops, groups discuss the right answer, but it doesn’t get offered up as a solution. Because members second-guess, stifle, dismiss and even distrust their own genius.

Stifling is the deadliest of the sinful seven, because it is the most destructive.
Had you happened upon the right answer in your contemplation, but dismissed it?

my comments: I will always try to remember that there may be a ringer in every group (likely not me!). Make sure I do not stifle, but reveal and support the ringers!

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