Creating productive friction

The Abilene Paradox is a famous story about a family who ended up going on a really long trip because everyone thought that everyone else wanted to go on the journey. In reality, no-one wanted to go on the trip.

The paradox is that by trying to please everyone else they all ended up with the worst outcome. In the book, Say Anything: How Leaders Inspire Ideas, Cultivate Candour, and Forge Fearless Cultures, Doug Crandall states that “Mutual agreement is a detriment more insidious than even organizational conflict”. It’s important that an organization doesn’t get into a position where ideas can’t be challenged, pulled apart and improved upon. It should never be personal. Productive friction is the concept of creating enough tension and friction inside an organization to allow ideas, solutions, problems to be debated and discussed, without grinding the flow of ideas to market to a halt. Feedback is the essential ingredient and should be oriented on outcomes. Feedback without any indicator of direction may not be that helpful. A well-designed working system that creates interventions of collaboration, critique and improvement should allow people to come together on a regular basis, and ensure everyone is focused on the goal.


Is there a decision made recently where you believe mutual agreement was sought rather than getting to the best outcome? What could you do differently to give feedback that will lead to the right solution?

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