Wisdom and Echo Chambers Don’t Mix

This HBR post from Tom Davenport is worth a read. It starts with ruminations on an expressed desire for “adult supervision” of the Obama administration and ambles down a path of young versus old, then ends up in the juicy domain of cultivating breadth and diversity of opinion. This paragraph was my favourite:

“Building good judgment in an organization is not as simple as giving our youngest leaders silver-haired counselors. It’s the result of drawing on a much broader base of learning for all decisions — from people up, down, and sideways in the organization; from people outside the organization, including customers, competitors, rivals, and partners; and from other sources of data. And therefore, it’s a question of developing cultures and processes that enable that kind of multi-dimensional learning and allow collective wisdom to emerge.”

This idea of ‘drawing on a much broader base’, of hearing from and including diverse people is a philosophy I hold dearly (I think it was IDEO that planted the seed for me). Recently I had the chance to see this in action: people from all across an enterprise gathered to tackle strategy using some innovation tools. It wasn’t the strategy or the tools that created magic. It was the people and their diverse perspectives. Solving the problems of today and tomorrow is impossible inside an echo chamber.

What’s a big, hairy problem you’re trying to work through? Who are five people that are at least two or three degrees removed from that problem? Could you invite them for a dinner to explore the problem – for some parallel engineering? You just might have the beginnings of magic…