Henry Ford was a smart man who understood the power of reasoning. He quoted, “If two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” One of the most important traits of being a good professional is ability to bring alternative perspectives on board. Some people call it “contrarian thinking” and others call it “differential thought” or “playing a devil’s advocate”. In any case, it is inherent to the advancement of ideas.
Unfortunately, our education system (and in lot of cases, even our corporate system) does not allow people to think differently. A lot of our programming is done to comply with the rules and obey the orders. We almost have a fascination towards “What”, “How” and “When” – but we often miss the “Why” – the purpose.
Conventional thinking, following the group and agreeing with them only leads to conventional ideas. Unconventional thinking, questioning for the purpose and taking a contrarian view helps to dig out the unconventional ideas.
Leaders set direction for their teams and draw out strategies – when exploring alternatives, contrarian thinking helps them in assessing possibilities. Ability to think differently is one of the most important leadership skills in my view.
Organization’s culture plays an important role in allowing people to think differently. If their ideas are consistently put down – they would either move on, or learn to comply – much like students in the school classroom who are not allowed to think unconventionally. It is important therefore, to build a culture that encourages differential thinking and embraces new ideas.
If you are a business leader or a team leader, here are a few ways you can promote differential thinking:
Do not accept conventional wisdom – routine ideas about how things should be done. When team members suggest conventional viewpoints – contradict them with a different view and let them think. (Tip: Be polite and firm while you do so, else it will be misconstrued as arrogance)
Encourage scrutiny of how current processes work – and how they can be simplified for more effectiveness. Give ad-hoc assignments to team members and let them think.
At least once in a fortnight, schedule a small group discussion on any topic. Let them express their views and then play a “devil’s advocate” to offer alternative perspectives.
Frequently ask “Why?” and “Why not?”
When someone offers ideas, encourage them. Nudge them to think deeper and wider. Show them the way by doing it yourself once.
Encourage “calculated risk taking”, creative ideas and innovation.
If you want to differentiate yourself as a professional, or as an organization – it starts from your thinking and ends with impeccable execution.
Have a Wonderful Wednesday!