By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index
There’s a reason commercials say that “8 out of 10 doctors/dentists/customers prefer this certain product; if they said, “10 out of 10” no one would believe it. And we shouldn’t.
How did uniformity, even pure conformity, become an ideal many of us seem to aspire to?
You may have seen a mob in action. A group often behaves as no individual would.
Committees and councils of all kinds are not so different. Decisions are often made and policies passed that, few, if any would have supported or approved personally.
Conformity, fear and inertia tend to rule – and they rule most dramatically where they should not rule, or even have a place, at all.
If “everyone agrees” or “everybody knows,” it is either because someone isn’t listening or some voices – and a lot of creativity – have been excluded, often deliberately, or even worse, dismissed or diminished semi-automatically.
If there is anything that “everybody knows”, it is that “everybody” is notoriously unreliable.
From presidential candidates to “healthy” foods to good books or movies, or the “best” investment, what “everybody” knows often has little to do with what actually comes about or what any one of us might appreciate.
I’m not alone in this. In ancient Jewish law, for example, a person could not be convicted of a capital crime if the guilty verdict was unanimous.
The premise was that full agreement was not proof of guilt, or even of the convincing nature of the evidence, but the opposite; that any opposition had been worn down and was, at best, a compromise. If “everyone agrees” it is less likely that the evidence was convincing than that the few hold-outs decided that it wasn’t worth fighting over any more.
In a family or friendship, this is never a good sign. In a government or corporation, it is a disaster. And in many cases, the sure death knell of any organization.
There’s nothing heroic about going along with what everyone else says. In fact that is proof of how redundant, if not mordant, the group has become.
Leadership ain’t us
This rubber-stamping, death by committee is a close corollary to the well known Peter principle where those who are good at their jobs are promoted into positions where they (and their departments) flounder. In other words, people are rewarded for work well done by a transfer to a role where they will do poorly. And the whole organization suffers. In short, the individual (and to some degree the industry) “rises to the level of their incompetence”.
When few if any of us are inspired to stand up for what we believe, and the system rewards competence by taking people out of their area of skill, what do we have?
As we all know too well, we have the corporate and political system that we currently have.
We have grandstanding corporate heads, members of Congress who are as ignorant of process as they are of administrative details and news anchors who spout platitudes and feel-good stories, but mostly just parade their ignorance and bland naivete.
Maybe it’s just me, but I long for the unexpected prophet/entrepreneur/visionary who sees what no one else sees. Yet.
These are the people who don’t know that “it can’t be done”; the ones that build, create, write or even sing of what the rest of us couldn’t imagine. And then, years later, usually when they have left us, we honor them with awards or civic tributes.
These are the people who won’t agree with the committee or the focus group, and won’t “go along to get along”.
These people don’t always give us what we thought we wanted; but they often give us what we didn’t know we needed.
These people speak with authority and from experience- not with the usual bland assurances, vague evasions or vaporous slogans.
As much as we might love these inventors and innovators in the abstract, as “models”, even as “heroes”, we rarely appreciate them in the present. And in the flesh. In fact we usually dislike and dismiss them; they are, by definition, disrupters; the “way things are” is never good enough for them.
They want our products and systems to be better. They want US to be better. Their eye is on what could be. They are rarely comfortable to be around. And they rarely leave things as they are. The future, for most of them, can’t come soon enough.
Any business or political system that wants to stay vital and responsive values, listens to and cultivates such people.
These are the people who know that sameness is not success, that uniformity is not the goal. Progress and movement is the goal.
And if we only listen to what we have heard before, and do what we have done before, progress is impossible. And sometimes sheer survival is put into jeopardy.
We’ve never done it that way before
We’ve all heard the saying that if you want to stay where you are, keep doing what you’ve been doing. And if you want different results, do what you’ve never done before. That’s the main message these innovators are giving us. And few of us want to hear it.
We may not always like how things are, but we have gotten comfortable and don’t want to change.
One of the many ironies is that we often hate and persecute with ferocity those who call us to live up to what we say we already believe and care about.
From “liberty and justice for all” to prosperity and opportunity to warnings about unimaginable (and usually preventable) catastrophes, these prophets and visionaries remind us both of what we can become, and perhaps what, though we may not like it, what we have become.