Great minds think alike

What do people mean with the “obligation to dissent”?

An important task for each group member is to recognise the symptoms of groupthink in time and to alert the others to the dangers. But an even more important task is to install a culture in the group that allows everyone to think freely and critically without being punished by the group.

Within the consultancy firm McKinsey, this open culture is called “the obligation to dissent”. It means that the youngest, most junior person in a given meeting can totally disagree with the most senior person in the room without any concern. As a leader of a group you can cultivate this open culture by being curious, listening and asking questions, allow different views in a debate and talk to each other until the best solution is found…

In the airline industry this obligation to dissent is far from evident. According to the Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell, the most important aspect of aircraft safety is not the equipment, but how pilots communicate and deal with hierarchy. A lot of crashes are due to a lack of this open debate culture. For example, on Thursday 25 January 1990, an Avianca Boeing 707 flew from the Colombian capital Bogota to New York. The weather over the Big Apple was extremely bad, which led to many delays. Air traffic control ordered the pilots to circle above New York for more than an hour before landing. After half-an-hour, the control tower contacted the plane again and the pilots reported in full panic that, due to a shortage of fuel, they could only keep the plane in the air for another five minutes. Due to poor visibility, a few minutes later a first emergency landing failed. Subsequently, two engines failed and the Boeing 707 crashed at 21.34 near Nevak, 30 kilometres from the airport. Seventy three of the 158 passengers did not survive the crash. According to a number of experts interviewed by Malcolm Gladwell for his book Outliers, the cause of the disaster is clear… poor communication between the pilots and their fear of going against orders from the airport control tower.

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Great minds think alike

Learn how to identify groupthinking and learn to install an open culture where everyone can freely express their opinion.