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What to Do With Contrarians?

daftandbarmy

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Based on my experience the answer seems to be 'Put them all in Daftandbarmy's rifle company' ;)


What to Do With Contrarians?​

Henning Piezunka, INSEAD Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise, Vikas Aggarwal, INSEAD Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise, and Hart Posen, Wisconsin School of Business Professor of Management and Human Resources | October 5, 2021

Even when they are wrong, those who think differently add value to an organisation.

Does this situation sound familiar? You’re sitting in a meeting, and you and your colleagues are energetically discussing how to handle an important issue or challenge. Ideas and suggestions are bouncing around so fast that the designated note-taker can barely keep up. Then a new voice chimes in, belonging to an employee who never talks in such meetings. It’s as if one of the chairs in the conference room suddenly started speaking. The group falls silent and pays close attention, clearly expecting something special.

But it’s soon evident why this person usually stays silent. Their idea seems flown in from another discussion entirely. It seems to have no connection to what anyone else has been saying, let alone to the issue at hand. After a polite, awkward and brief silence, general conversation resumes where it left off as if the quiet one had never spoken.

Generally, organisations don’t know what to do with contrarians – employees whose ideas or mindset don’t fit the mold. On the one hand, giving contrarians too much credence or authority strikes most leaders as a risky move. When in doubt, it’s seemingly much safer to follow the wisdom of the crowd. At the same time, smart leaders are aware that genius often looks like weirdness to ordinary souls. Being out of step could be a sign of a superstar. But without a simple, reliable way to distinguish the savant from the crackpot, most leaders let their innate conservatism lead. Contrarians are sidelined.

Decision-making structures

In a recent research study, which gave rise to a paper forthcoming in Organization Science, we used computational models to tease out how different decision-making structures shape the performance of an organisation, as well as the learning of its individual members. One of the side benefits of collaborative decision making, we reasoned, was that members can learn about options they personally would never have chosen. This process, which we call “learning-by-participating”, translates into long-term advantage for teams and organisations that employ decision-making methods that give contrarians a voice, so that they can learn and their colleagues can learn from them. An example of such a method is rotating dictatorship, in which decisions are randomly delegated to individual participants who can make an autonomous choice on the group’s behalf.

More “democratic” methods that rely on aggregating the wisdom of the crowd – such as majority-rules or two-stage voting – work well in the short-term. However, they do nothing to correct individuals’ misplaced faith in options that seem promising but fail to deliver. These “false positives” then stick around to hamper the effectiveness of the group as a whole.

The inherent value of contrarians

Linking long-term team performance to the purging of false positives led us to the counterintuitive finding that listening to contrarians can add value even when they’re wrong. We separated hypothetical contrarians into two groups: geniuses and anti-geniuses. The former category correctly identified the most valuable alternative from a menu of five; the latter believed the worst of the five to be the best.

As you might expect, the simulated organisations in our model performed better when they afforded contrarian geniuses the chance to make decisions, which happened only under rotating dictatorship.

But anti-genius contrarians may also have useful knowledge buried beneath their (incorrect) beliefs. In our model, the big error of anti-geniuses – believing the worst of the five options was the best – was counterbalanced by subtler but still rare intuitions, such as that the best option was indeed superior to most others. As the simulation played out over hundreds of rounds of decision making, we saw that under rotating dictatorship, anti-geniuses were able to shed their most flagrant false positives and contribute to general team knowledge by helping identify highest-performing alternatives quicker.

It goes without saying that the more geniuses you have on your team, the better it is for performance. But experience tells us that full-fledged geniuses, with a head full of great ideas unclouded by false positives, are few and far between. If rotating dictatorship is too radical a structure for your organisation to consider, you might want to think about recruiting one or two more anti-geniuses. This may seem counterintuitive, but it is only by strength of numbers that anti-geniuses will be able to make their mark despite their marginalised status, given the homogeneity of conventional organisational decision making.

So the next time a contrarian brings the meeting to a momentary halt with a seemingly irrelevant suggestion, it might be worth taking a pause to ask them some clarifying questions. Try to excavate the exotic insight that might be bubbling underneath the crust of their confusion. And if it turns out that they might in fact be onto something, perhaps suspend your doubts and try putting their idea, offbeat as it may be, into action. Even if it turns out to be a dud, the contrarian will learn something while feeling less marginalised – and your team will learn that listening to contrarians is something worth doing.

What to Do With Contrarians?
 

Colin Parkinson

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How the government deals with them
thumb_alright-team-we-need-people-to-buy-our-products-any-49369327.png
 

Furniture

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It is always interesting to be in a meeting where we are discussing a problem, and the "groupthink" comes back to doing more of the same things that aren't working, because most agree they are the right decision.

Now that I'm in a position that requires me to sit in on a lot of meetings, I see it more often. The person with the "out of left field" proposal is dismissed, because the majority can't/won't consider their own ideas/solutions are flawed.
 

Colin Parkinson

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and if you stand out from the group to much, you will be labelled "Not a team player"
 

daftandbarmy

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It is always interesting to be in a meeting where we are discussing a problem, and the "groupthink" comes back to doing more of the same things that aren't working, because most agree they are the right decision.

Now that I'm in a position that requires me to sit in on a lot of meetings, I see it more often. The person with the "out of left field" proposal is dismissed, because the majority can't/won't consider their own ideas/solutions are flawed.

"If everyone is thinking alike then someone isn't thinking." Gen George S. Patton
 

Furniture

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"If everyone is thinking alike then someone isn't thinking." Gen George S. Patton
You've just described pretty much every meeting I have been part of, particularly the ones where I was part of the "hive mind". :ROFLMAO:
 

Dana381

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People often want fresh insight until they get it and then they reject it. Just because everyone agrees doesn't make them right, Flat earth anyone ;)
 

SupersonicMax

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People often want fresh insight until they get it and then they reject it. Just because everyone agrees doesn't make them right, Flat earth anyone ;)

There is such time where there are facts and lies. In the case of the shape of the Earth, it is a known fact that the Earth is an irregularly shaped ellipsoid.

What is being discussed in the article is the introduction of different ideas in complex problem solving. There is no problem solving required anymore to determine the shape of the Earth.
 

Dana381

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There is such time where there are facts and lies. In the case of the shape of the Earth, it is a known fact that the Earth is an irregularly shaped ellipsoid.

What is being discussed in the article is the introduction of different ideas in complex problem solving. There is no problem solving required anymore to determine the shape of the Earth.

I was referring to the reaction of the scientific community when a round earth was first proposed. The people proposing it were ridiculed and attacked because they proposed an idea different from the status quo. exactly what the article was discussing.
 

Colin Parkinson

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The joys of dealing with a scientist asking us to stay in the same spot but also drift with the tide, at the same time.....

Or watching a scientist who got a slot on a icebreaker to do studies, realize he had forgotten to send us parts of his equipment prior to leaving Victoria and then take out his mistake on the students with him....

Go to a party full of scientists and you can cut the snobbery and pecking order in the air with a knife.
 

Weinie

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The joys of dealing with a scientist asking us to stay in the same spot but also drift with the tide, at the same time.....

Or watching a scientist who got a slot on a icebreaker to do studies, realize he had forgotten to send us parts of his equipment prior to leaving Victoria and then take out his mistake on the students with him....

Go to a party full of scientists and you can cut the snobbery and pecking order in the air with a knife.
"Big Bang Theory" extrapolated/capitalized on that in multiple episodes.
 

daftandbarmy

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Speaking of 'Scientists behaving badly'

Scientists behaving badly

To protect the integrity of science, we must look beyond falsification, fabrication and plagiarism, to a wider range of questionable research practices,

Serious misbehaviour in research is important for many reasons, not least because it damages the reputation of, and undermines public support for, science. Historically, professionals and the public have focused on headline-grabbing cases of scientific misconduct, but we believe that researchers can no longer afford to ignore a wider range of questionable behaviour that threatens the integrity of science.

We surveyed several thousand early- and mid-career scientists, who are based in the United States and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and asked them to report their own behaviours. Our findings reveal a range of questionable practices that are striking in their breadth and prevalence (Table 1).

This is the first time such behaviours have been analysed quantitatively, so we cannot know whether the current situation has always been the case or whether the challenges of doing science today create new stresses. Nevertheless, our evidence suggests that mundane ‘regular’ misbehaviours present greater threats to the scientific enterprise than those caused by high-profile misconduct cases such as fraud. As recently as December 2000, the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) defined research misconduct as “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism (FFP) in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results”1 .

In 2002, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and the Association of American Medical Colleges objected to a proposal by the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) to conduct a survey that would collect empirical evidence of behaviours that can undermine research integrity, but which fall outside the OSTP’s narrow definition of misconduct2,3. We believe that a valuable opportunity was wasted as a result.

 
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