The Paradox of Friendship

by Didier Marlier on Friday June 14th, 2013

Following last week’s post, on the courageous decision of Warren Buffet, to invite a longtime critic of his to his annual shareholders’ meeting because he felt that it would add value to the reunion, here is a great video clip, pushing the idea further…

It reminds me of a story that I heard when taught at IMD (a long time ago) which was called “The Paradox of Friendship”. Following the professor, a study had been commanded by Bell Labs in order to discover why, in a predictable manner, the creativity and innovativeness of its Research project teams was always plummeting 10 to 14 months after they had been assembled. The psychologists who observed the phenomenon came back with an amazing cause: People we “neutralizing each other”. In other terms, they had become conflict avoidant and would rather settle for comfortable neutrality, leading to a certain mediocrity, than take the personal risk to challenge the status quo and “rock the boat”. The teams were colluding, little by little, to remain in their comfort zone, no dissonant voice was welcome and whistle-blowers were ejected. The recommendation of the consultants was to inject regularly some “trouble maker” that should be protected by the team leader and who would ask the “stupid questions” that nobody dared to for a long time.

Just as I had been elected the President of the Tourist Board of the ski resort of Villars, where I lived, in 1997, an article came out in Switzerland’s leading newspaper. It was accusing the resort very fairly, in some areas and somewhat “below the belt” in others. I remember how defensive was the journalist, when I took the phone and called him to… thank him for his paper, reinforce some of the very fair criticism he was making and asked him to invite another 12 of his peers, from other publications, to help us turning the place around and act as mystery shoppers. After clarifying that I was not trying to get free articles (which we ended up having anyway as they were so surprised by our low guard approach) against a free week-end of skiing, the 12 journalists and spouses came. We learned a lot from their experience as mystery shoppers and the quality of their reports was way above anything we would have had from the traditional consultancies.

“Dare to disagree” is the title of the excellent TED speech here below. I encourage you to take a look at it. It is excellent.

Have a courageous week all and… speak-up and if you are in a leadership position: ensure your people dare to challenge you: Leaders have the followers that they deserve…

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2 Responses to “The Paradox of Friendship”

  1. Didier

    Another excellent blog. I read your post about Warren Buffet last week and it was really inspiring, but watching this TED talk made it closer to me as a mere mortal. Wish I had watched it earlier in my life, thanks I was able to watch it while I still have time to learn and change a few things in my way of dealing with different opinions.

    • Thank you Luiz,
      Well trust me, we keep on learning all the time indeed… Yes I was lucky to find this excellent TED speech when designing a session for a client around “Constructive Conflict”… It is never too late. Brazilian people, in the streets, are showing that. I wish their leaders, like in many other countries in the world at this moment, understood that this could be dealt with by other means than sending the police and teargas…
      Have a good week-end and thanks for your great comment!


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