Just because the people you choose to surround yourself with agree with you does not mean you are right. I have stated before that great minds might think alike, but raving lunatics often see eye to eye with each other too. There is no shortage of evidence to support that statement. As many as ten minds wallowing adjacent to each other in the foulest part of the sewers of California thought alike and proceeded to gang rape a little girl over the weekend. That in itself proves that thinking alike is hardly proof of correctness, let alone greatness.
The crux of the scientific method is to form a hypothesis and then go out and look for something that can disprove it. The scientists and logic folks would say that only when you have given it an honest effort to prove yourself wrong – your idea passes every experiment you can devise – no peer or expert can refute you – are you onto something.
We are surrounded with examples of failure resulting from inbreeding – people and organizations that cloister themselves in order to assure that no one will ever disagree with them. Their theories do not undergo anything like the scientific method. They are like the three college kids in Connecticut who tied the doors to a few dorm rooms shut, then loaded the dorm microwaves with popcorn and set them to cook so long the smoke alarms would go off. Driving their buddies wild with panic when they found themselves trapped in what they thought was a burning building was the apparent goal. There is not much doubt that, had they run the plan past just about anyone who was at home, in bed, sober at 3 AM when the scheme was hatched, they would have heard a well reasoned contrary opinion to their brilliant idea.
The failing media outlets Kevin wrote about are in trouble largely because they are out of touch with their customers, and they are out of touch because they have set their own thinking up as the gold standard and do not air or print anything that contradicts them. They no more want to hear contrary opinions than those college kids wanted to hear what their parents would have thought about their popcorn plan. So they continue on the same intellectual path – getting validation from each other and wholesale rejection from their customers outside the circle.
Same goes for our egg-headed friends over at Harvard as they engage each other in another silly debate over the nuances of their silly theories concerning manufacturing, innovation and the flatness of the earth. They have a closed circle politely debating shades of agreement, but they are not the least bit interested in having anyone from outside the club refute their theories. Some guy named Yoffie says we don't need manufacturing because Google, Amazon and Salesforce.com can carry the economy. Let some hayseed with a 2.8 in management from Kansas State try to jump into the fray with a comment telling the good professor that those companies employ a total of 34,000 people to get $38 billion in sales, while Whirlpool has twice the people and half the sales – and Whirlpool outsources everything it can get its hands on. His theory has a great big gaping hole – manufacturng creates jobs – information for services doesn't. The naysayer from the flatlands won't get far because their beautiful theories cannot stand outside scrutiny. The Harvard Club are not the least interested in facts that run contrary to their thinking, so they close the doors and limit membership to people who they can count on for validation.
This is really not much different from the push back I occasionally get on my One Day Assessments when I urge a reconfiguration to Value Streams, or a conversion to Lean Accounting. It seems that lean only applies to Japanese owned car companies with factories in Scott County, Kentucky – everyone else is different. Because I am not from around there I cannot possibly understand the culture that makes lean impossible in their plant; and I am not from their industry so I simply do not understand that they are unique and what works for everyone else just doesn't fit their business model. I often feel about as welcome as mom and dad saying, 'you guys really don't want to put that popcorn in the dorm microwave and tie all the doors shut'. It leaves me scratching my head at those companies willing to pay me good money to come in, agree with every recommendation and observation I make, then tell me they aren't going to do any of it because it just won't work in their situation.
This unwillingness to even listen to differing opinions often happens when the boss has a very fragile ego – and it is amazing how many such insecure bosses there are. The criteria in many companies to get ahead is agreement with the boss. No contrary facts or opinions are tolerated. The culture of the 'yes man' is still alive and well in many companies and it is a huge barrier to improvement. To make matters worse, lcokstep agreement with the boss' views is often seen as a measure of teamwork – disagree with the boss or introduce a new idea and you are not a team player. This is the actual impetus for many, many of the One Day Assessment calls I get. The boss doesn't really want my opinion any more than he wanst anyone else's - he wants me there for 'outside validation' of the opinions he has already formed. What a waste of my time and the company's money!
When I go out on one of my assessments and the company is not doing well, I can almost count on running into an internally focused management team that is long on why thinking other than their's is unwelcome. At the other end of the scale, I occasionally get called into companies that are doing very well. They are those rare companies that not only accept but actively solicit outside challenges to their thinking. Those are the excellent few. They are engaged in a scientific method of sorts – not content that they have the right answer as long as there is a chance something better might be out there.
An organization cannot improve unless it is a learning organization, and a learning organization is continually generating new thinking and is willing to have open and honest challenges from every corner – especially from ideas coming from outside of the inner circle. Inbred thinking only leads to five legged cattle, failed newspapers, irrelevant college professors, burnt popcorn and bankrupt companies.