“Consensus KILLS creativity!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
When I spend time with corporate groups focused on trying to accelerate their innovation culture and creativity mission, I often find that consensus building is at the root of all barriers. That’s because conformity kills creativity.
During my years of studying innovation, and seeing both success and failure, I have learned that there are many barriers that are in the way of moving forward – organizational inertia, conflicting leadership direction, lack of a clear strategic purpose, and trends denial. But the biggest challenge I often discover is an often fruitless mission to try and chase ‘buy-in’ from all affected parties through every department. Often, the task is so hopeless that all initiatives die.
And with that, the originality of ideas dies on the vine as those with creative capability see their ideas sacrificed to the insanity of groupthink.
Creativity is a precious resource, and when it is squandered like this, it’s tragic.
Consensus is something that doesn’t fit the creativity model. Creative people are curious – they live for learning and discovery, finding new topics, and challenging the status quo. They are willing to experiment, try new ideas, and risk failure. They don’t see things the way everyone else does – they see a world that others can’t see. They are emotional, motivated, and sensitive – they are often weakest when with a strong crowd. They get lost in their work, and are often ‘lone wolves,’ all too happy to work on their own rather than trying to fit in. They don’t understand the ‘status quo’ – they do their own ‘quo.’
All of which makes them anathema to the perils of groupthink and consensus. They rebel against conformity and compromise. They don’t understand efforts to try to chase group harmony in the sacrifice of obvious ideas with great potential. Thye rebel against normalized behavior and the lowered expectations of success that often come with groupthink – they don’t understand why we can’t chase the idea!
Conformity is poison – originality is a drug.
And so there is a clash, and often because they are at their weak point when faced with a hostile crowd, they walk away or shrink back in their efforts. The result is that the organization sees a self-imposed limit on alternatives, where individual ideas are banished in the pursuit of optimized group solutions. Curiosity is vanquished as the marginalization of ideas becomes routine. Risk is punished not rewarded, since everyone in the group now wants to achieve success, albeit marginal. The worst or most marginal of ideas rise to the top and great ideas are abandoned in order to keep everyone happy. Success becomes elusive since everyone is busy chasing failure.
Worse yet, all too often in this context, any effort at chasing real consensus is just a lip-service exercise. There is an all-too-obvious sham process of consensus building seeking buy-in, where everyone knows that a decision has already been made. Efforts at listening, seeking suggestions, exploring options, and resolving conflict in pursuit of the best possible decision are obviously a veneer of false action in the face of that pre-determined decision – people see through a veneer of phony leadership.
What disappears in this context? Respect for diversity of thought, critical thinking, individuality, and the pursuit of offbeat ideas, all of which are necessary for a chase of strategic excellence.
This leads to the inescapable reality that chasing conformity crushes creativity. Worse – chasing conformity KILLS creativity.
EVERY single time.
Stop the chase. Run a different race.