The way of the contrarian...

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.

I was reminded a couple of days ago that I am a contrarian; it was not the first time, and usually not meant as a compliment. For those not familiar with the word, a contrarian is a person who takes an opposite or different position from other people. And this reminds me of a story - 

Many years ago, in a land far away, there was a very prosperous city state that was the envy of all.  The city was ruled by a council of eleven wise elders and all city decisions were their responsibility, including ruling on any disputes or crimes that came before them; majority ruled on all decisions, with each of the eleven elders having a vote. One day a man accused of a heinous crime was brought before the council and after hearing the story, each of the elders voted guilty. At that point, the wisest of the elders announced the final judgment of the council; the accused man was to be set free. In disbelief, the on-lookers shouted their disapproval and wanted to understand how such a ruling could be made.

The wisest of the elders stood and explained that when all of the members of the council agreed, they believed that there was a common bias that existed among them, they were looking at the situation through the same eyes, and they had not uncovered the unknown details that would make for the best decision - In short, when they all agree, they have made a flawed decision.  

The strength in making better decisions lies with contrary discussions, differing positions, ideas and different ways of thinking; with the contrarian acting as the facilitator. Being referred to as a contrarian is a good thing, a necessary thing...

  • They will help you pressure test your thinking to ensure it is sound.
  • They challenge groupthink. 
  • They help look at a situation in a different way.
  • They remind us that everyone thinking the same way does not necessarily make for good decisions.
  • They help advocate and adapt to change.
  • They introduce new ideas.

I knew a CEO who designated a person, as part of their role, to always challenge his strategic thinking... to be that executive contrarian. His rationale was simple, if his thinking could not stand up to the rigors of the board room, how could it ever stand up in the real world.

Embrace those people who don't agree with you, hear them out, encourage the discussion... your thinking will be better for it, and most likely your decisions - Even if they don't agree.