JS Tip 423: Dissent and Decision-making, Part One

From the Leadership Workshops: Dissent and Decision-making, Part One

Recent events in the United States (such as last Tuesday) demonstrate the relationship between dissent and authority in the decision-making process.

We’ve talked about this before: This is an edited version of a Jefferson Smith Newsletter article from 2008.

Dissent—disagreement—is critical in the decision-making process.  

We’ll continue the discussion next week. 

In 1587, during the papacy of Sixtus V, the Roman Catholic Church began the use of the “Devil’s Advocate” (advocatus diaboli) in the canonization—sainthood—process.

The advocate’s role was to find fault with the candidate, look for flaws in the evidence, and force those arguing for sainthood to improve their argument. The confrontation slowed the process but ensured due care.

Move to our time: The Challenger disaster. September 11th. The financial collapse of 2008.

According to Diane Vaughn in The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA, the Challenger disaster was preventable.

The disaster happened because management failed to listen to differing opinions. “It was not amorally calculating managers violating rules that were responsible for the tragedy. It was conformity” (386, emphasis added).

There was no one to disagree.

There was no one to say, “Hey! This is goofy!”

There was no Devil’s Advocate.

We need Devil’s Advocates.

If you disagree, let us know. We’d love to hear your ideas. Your dissent.

Next week, we’ll be more specific. We’ll talk about improving the decision-making process.

We love this stuff. Doggone, we love this stuff.