Intellectual honesty for sustainable progress

A short time ago I wrote that productive conversations come from intellectual honesty and engaging positively.

But intellectual honesty is important for organisational culture, too. Without this things can go very badly wrong. I was reminded of this back in March when I read this commentary regarding the unexpectedly poor progress that Russia was making after it started its war against Ukraine:

A senior EU diplomat seconded Bedingfield’s point, saying that the US assessment was in line with Europe’s thinking, reported Reuters.

“Putin thought things were going better than they were. That’s the problem with surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’ or only sitting with them at the end of a very long table,” the diplomat said.

Most senior people are driven to “get things done”. This shouldn’t be surprising—it’s probably one of the traits that got them to being senior in the first place. But the fastest way to get things done is to bulldoze other people, ignoring their views in one way or another.

Unfortunately, while this produces quick progress it’s progress that is unlikely to last. Decision-making without carefully listening to different viewpoints, and adjusting accordingly, leads to bad outcomes. This might be fine for an individual who wants to make their mark and move on, but it’s not so good for those who care about the organisation or want to stay there.

These days lots of people talk about being data-driven, but this is not just about data. It’s about seeking the views of a wide range of people, exposing yourself to difficult questions, allowing your assumptions to be questioned, and much more. While bulldozing others requires a certain brute-force strength, being intellectually honest requires a different kind of strength, and one that runs deeper.

I’ve seen it done well in a small number of places. But those are places that rarely have to unwind from poor decisions.

Photo by Silvia Siri