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Popular Opinion

There is a famous study about our tendency to avoid conflicts. In it, three sticks of varying lengths are in a room with several people, of which only one is part of the study and the rest are actors. But the one who is part of the study doesn't know that the others are actors. The task is to collectively agree on which of the three is the longest stick.

When several of the actors picked the clearly wrong choice (a shorter stick), then the subject of the study often went along with it and agreed with them. 

When asked later why they chose an obviously wrong answer, they mentioned that they knew they were giving the wrong answer but did so anyway in order to avoid conflict with the others.

Now, change the problem from determining the longest stick to agreeing upon business strategy or company vision or any of the things we discuss in meetings and collaborate with colleagues on, and change the group of people in a room to a group of people in a company and you see the problem.

People hesitate to comment against things that seem obviously wrong to them just to avoid conflict, because everybody else seems to think it is right.

Hat-tip to Chris Guillebeau for suggesting that this is a leadership opportunity where we can take the lead and say what we see and perhaps others will have the impetus to share that opinion as well, perhaps they are hiding it for the same reason you were, to conform to the popular opinion.

It often just takes one to make the dominos fall. 

It is up to us to take the opportunity to say what we see.

At Netflix, this is an obligation for every employee. They are actively told that they are doing a disservice to the company by holding back their opinions.

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