Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Embracing Dissent

We had a staff meeting recently in which one coworker challenged another, with a couple of rounds of disagreement/persuasion immediately following, becoming more that a little bit tense.  You know the type of meeting; everyone is just a little uncomfortable, looking at the floor, hoping it all ends soon so that we can proceed to the next report.  Later I was asked how I felt about this interaction, and I think I surprised the staff member with my reaction.

I said that I hoped to foster an environment where each one of us would feel entirely comfortable with dissent, an environment where we would welcome someone challenging each other’s ideas, questioning our assumptions, and basically being a bit of a pain.  I hoped that we would become a bit “thick skinned” and able to tolerate a healthy degree of criticism.  I hoped that, while we would know our business well enough to defend our position, we would also respect our colleagues enough to want to listen very carefully to what they said, in order to understand if we hadn’t communicated our point well or if possibly they had observed a new wrinkle in the problem that we had missed.

I believe that we can all help each other become better employees, better serving our member/owners with safe, reliable, clean and affordable energy.  Even if I am considered the expert in a particular area (and most of us are expert at something), I think that there is still the possibility that an “outsider” (someone without our training and experience) might see something that we had missed, and in that insight there might be tremendous business opportunities.

George Bernard Shaw said “…all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  The reasonable man always tries to get along, always tries to follow the rules, to sustain the status quo.  At best, the reasonable man can only produce incremental change.  Not that incremental change is bad; to the contrary it has been a tremendous part of the history of electrification.  Engineers are great at driving incremental change.  They are usually not so good at innovation.

The unreasonable man challenges the status quo, tries to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and asks “why not?”  We need to make sure we’re listening.

So, for all you unreasonable men and women out there, I have some advice:  learn to disagree without being disagreeable; and learn to accept criticism without being critical.  Understand that the real goal is for all of us to get better at what we do, and realize that together we can make better decisions when we include greater diversity of experience in our decisions.  Welcome dissent.  Embrace it.  Get comfortable with it.


  1. good post. glad to see you writing again.

  2. "The world belongs to the dissatisfied" -- from a Turkish proverb

    "... the one great underlying principle of all human progress is that 'divine discontent' makes men strive for better conditions and improved methods." -- Charles P. Steinmetz


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