Closer to the dawn of time, when I was at high school, the nerds of a generation got their illicit jollies by reading really daring, subversive things like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Subversive for both left and right – left because it discredited the communist motherland, right because well, it was about communism!
Those memories came out of the mental archive with the death of the elder statesman of dissenters & dissidents everywhere, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. And with the Doomsday Clock more or less back to where is was when One Day was first published, the need for dissent to test ideas and find new ways in geoeconomic realpolitik should be roundly self-evident.
Of course, nobody suggests that Solzhenitsyn got it right all the time. And his Nobel Prize in Literature is mostly about his eloquence and vigour in voicing an alternative, cogently expressed opinion, and less about the subject matter of his writing. But it seems sure that the world will be a poorer place without старший раскольник, the senior dissenter.
Our point? Businesses are not exempt from the need for productive dissent; indeed, dissent is one of the fundamental ingredients of invention, innovation, entrepreneurship, etc. Nor, however, do we need to treat every dissenting voice as a prophet (which would be a facile over-reaction, but more on that another time!).
The fact of the matter is, though, whether on the shop floor or in the board room, dissent typically brings penalties for the individual. And the penance required is far greater than the few circuits of the rosary beads done by the Catholics amongst my fellow teenagers who gained too much salacious enjoyment from reading One Day or The Gulag Archipelago.
If the quality of our democracy is evident from the quality of ideological dissent, perhaps the quality of our economy will be evident from the effective and constructive dissent in the workplaces of Australia (and on that point, we would include all workplaces, not least the corridors of power in political parties and the public service).
Since we are all depending on businesses to produce the innovation-led productivity advances that are the foundation for non-inflationary economic growth and sustainable prosperity, we’d better lift our game on fostering some useful debate – despite the fact that it is not a factor that could ever be measured by even the most pre-eminent doyen of statistics.
So, leaving the mandarins and pollies alone to work out their own crying need for managing useful dissent: What will your business do this week to listen intelligently to those anywhere in the organisation prepared to thoughtfully describe the emperor’s state of undress? And how will your team learn to get the best of each opinion and supporting evidence, without being either a slave to business hubris or a wastrel of resources following ‘new is better’ fads?