Merriam-Webster defines a consensus to be a “general agreement”. Sounds benign. Perhaps like the right thing to do. But following many (many) years in a large corporation, I agree with the following definition of consensus:
The image behind the quote is that of a beehive and it’s what I believe happens to us when we prioritize consensus too much: we lose something of ourselves and turn too much into bee drones.
Why do we seek consensus? Part of it is fear. How often have you seen this behavior, or thinking? It’s just easier to keep one’s head round rather than hammer-flat… Have you run into the manager who asks to be challenged, but ends up booting the challengers to the dog house? (yes, I know that dog house in and out :)). It’s safer to keep one’s head down, but unhealthy to one’s spirit.
Why do we seek consensus? Part of it is give-and-take: if I want you to agree to include red in the mix, I may have to agree to include yellow in. And then we get orange, which is not what I wanted and not what you wanted. But then we’re back to both of us agreeing to what neither one of us wanted. A truly great idea may be brought up, but more people want to make it their own, and to get them to agree to the original proposal, you may agree to the changes they suggested. While some of those changes may greatly improve the idea, enough of them water it down to being just like every other idea. In the movie Yesterday, a compromise changed “Hey Jude” to “Hey Dude”. Ouch! 🙂
Why do we seek consensus? Part of it is wanting to be liked. People like people who are like them, who agree with them. Yes, there are people who want to be challenged, but there are many more whose preferred challenge is a “that’s the best idea ever”…
I believe a better way is to reach decisions is for the decision maker to get input from the right people, consult, discuss, argue, and then the decision maker makes the decision.
What do you think? What are other reasons that people seek consensus? What’s a better way to make decisions?
Unrelated trivia: what’s the first positive integer to be spelled with the letter “a”? Answer in the next post.
Answer to last post’s trivia question: for under $1M … In fact, Larry Page and Sergei Brin agreed to sell Google to Excite for $1M in 1999. Excite wasn’t interested J Page and Brin agreed to go down to $750,000. Excite still passed on it. Excite was later sold to AskJeeves…