Monday, 21 February 2011

In praise of UNLIKE

I'm feeling increasingly uneasy about the fact that there is so much talk of 'likeminded-ness' at the moment. I know there is a healthy appetite for community, collaboration co-creation, but this 'sense of similarity' is bothering me, somehow. Whilst it is obviously true that groups of people with shared values can become a powerful force for good (or evil) in that they can create great influence and momentum in their endeavours, I wonder whether that idea of like-mindedness in itself is always 'good'.

We've all observed 'group-think' in focus groups, as we see 7 people willingly be led by the one other person and their strong (often inaccurate or ill-informed) opinion. And we've all sat in workshops or brainstorms in which the like-minded-ness of the group has jettisoned any kind of breakthrough thinking right out the window before even a single croissant has been passed around.

The problem, I would suggest, is that the best ideas come out of argument, debate and opposition. I know it all makes us feel better if we can agree that Apple is the most impressive brand; or that Daily Mail readers are all dimwits - but the reality is that we don't assert those things because they are true; rather because they make us feel we 'belong'.

Dear old Facebook has exacerbated the situation by audaciously branding the whole concept of 'like-minded-ness'. In the race to build, organise, manage and secure communities (a race in which Facebook is clearly first over the line) they have coveted not only the word, but the 'action' of like-minded-ness by inviting people to show the things they like to other people who might also like that same thing.

But it's further widespread than social media sites. When we talk about the evolution of organisational structures of companies and the re-engineering of teams, we are very prone to leap to the conclusion that a team of 'like-minded individuals' will be the answer. I'd suggest that actually, often, it won't.

In the previous post, I referred to Gilbert & George who had declared that "we are weird and normal at the same time". Now no-one can deny that they aren't breakthrough artists. And i wonder if their peculiar kind of innovation and success is due to the very fact that they have between them a sense of 'opposition that can co-exist'.

I think i remember reading somewhere that diverse teams or partnerships take more time to coalesce, but that they are in the end more effective than homogenous teams when it comes to innovation. In valuing differences, teams tend to hold fewer preconceived ideas as to where the solution might lie, and through a process of debate and dialectic, come to a more informed point of view. The way to think of it is that diverse teams are engaged in more learning, than teams who are already like-minded could possibly be.

Last year, I sat for two weeks on a Jury, sitting on an extremely serious and complex case. When it came to the process of deliberation, tempers flared, logic and emotion clashed, and diverse opinions were debated until it turned dark. The jury system works because it has diversity build into the very heart of it. Because it is nigh on impossible to ever get to the truth of anything, the only way to get close to that is to debate, disclose and discover...and that can only come via diversity.

And finally, the future of brands is going to be extremely dependent upon their ability to offer access to knowledge they don't themselves hold. This will be through partnerships, or agreements and will therefore require companies to not only establish an '...& friends' model but an '... & frenemies' model. The value is in the strength through compensation as much as through collaboration.

So, as a counter to the craze for all things 'community' I would like to praise all things and behaviours based on 'unlike'.

Those who UNLIKE:
  • know that they will learn less from their friends than their enemies
  • value originality over and above acceptability
  • aim to debate the strength of an idea rather than just vote for it
  • view likeminded-ness merely as a difference rather than a preference
  • know beyond doubt that the answer cannot be the thing to which everyone agrees
...and don't mind that their blogger peers will not agree

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