Work Futures Daily - Balancing Convergence and Divergence

How much of what we read about work and business is pure ideology, and not grounded in science? A whole lot.

2018-02-16 - Beacon NY - One of the core premises of my research agenda and what I hope to get across to others through my writing and the thinking behind it is a core premise:

A great deal of what are promoted as self-evident basic principles about leadership, management, and how people should interact when working together, instead turns out to be, at the best, Bronze-age folklore or anecdotal one liners. And at the worst, much of what we hear and read regarding the conduct of business or the nature of work is industrial era (or earlier) ideology, without any scientific basis, and promoted as the practices of successful companies, the recommendations of charismatic leaders, or the results of research into the thinking of C-level executives.

But I believe to the extent possible we should look to science, and what we have actually learned about human cognition and sociality, instead of ancient myths, unfounded superstitions, and the enshrining of taboos.

This is the spark behind the lead section, below, where I challenge the conventional wisdom around alignment as a cultural goal.

I’m publishing this to the wide world, because I believe it’s very important.

Balancing Convergence and Divergence

Once again, I see a call for lockstep groupthink as an unexamined necessity. In this case, a call for alignment from Hannah Price at the Jostle blog:

Keeping employees aligned is essential. Everyone should be marching to the beat of the same drum so your company can move forward in a unified, consistent, and efficient way. This week's Five for Friday delves into how you can achieve this and why it's so important. 

Actually, dissent is a critical quality of creative, innovative workplaces where high degrees of autonomy are demanded by high performing individuals and teams.

I explored some aspects of the need to balance divergence and convergence in Dissensus, not consensus, is the shorter but steeper path, where I discuss the research of Ulrich Klocke, who wrote about groupthink and dissent. It turns out that the impacts of dissent are positive both at the group and individual level [emphasis mine]:

[…] early field studies analyzed the effects of groupthink, a tendency for concurrence seeking that effectively suppresses the expression of dissent. They found evidence that groupthink can have detrimental effects on group decisions. […] These experiments showed that dissent (compared to consent) enhances decision-making quality, even when no group member favors the correct solution before the discussion. This effect was mediated predominantly by more systematic processing of information but also by less biased processing of information. Specifically, dissent led to the introduction and repetition of more information and to a more balanced discussion of shared and unshared and preference-consistent and inconsistent information.

With regard to individual behavior in the context of dissent:

There is evidence for more systematic processing by individuals after being exposed to divergent opinions. One factor that mobilizes systematic processing is surprise or a deviation from expectancy. Usually, divergent opinions are unexpected and therefore cause surprise and mobilize cognitive resources to explain the unexpected event. In addition, it has been demonstrated that dissent, especially when articulated by a consistent minority, promotes divergent thinking, a variable related to unbiased processing.

So, I continue to warn people against cultural norms that extol or seek ‘alignment’ and implicitly or explicitly attempt to choke off or eliminate dissent. I recommend reading the entire Dissensus, not consensus, is the shorter but steeper path for more insights from other thinkers on the topic.

Note that divergent perspectives — which are a fertile source of dissent — are exactly what companies gain from increased diversity. And therefore, the conventional wisdom about the need for alignment in teams and corporate culture is likely an indication of a company’s deep resistance to diversity, and biases against divergent thinking and dissent.

Klocke points out that unless these approaches are taken to apply more systematic and less biased processing of information, decision making is poor:

frequently, group discussions are superfluous, and groups would be better off using a decision shortcut like an immediate vote or an averaging procedure.


In OpenText Acquires Hightail, I point out that the acquisition of this niche file sync-and-share company, that burned through $92 million in a marketplace now dominated by the internet giants and a few entrenched pure play competitors — Dropbox and Box, specifically — was inevitable. I close with this:

Note that Hightail was acquired (probably for very little) by OpenText, who is trying to build itself into being a serious second-tier player, in competition with IBM and Citrix.

Note: file sync-and-share is so second nature to us we seldom stop and think that it’s plugging a pre-internet gap in our computers’ operating systems, a gaping flaw: the premise that files are local to the device, and not shared. Why hasn’t that been fixed?

MIT researchers have created a new chip that

increases the speed of neural network computations by three to seven times over its predecessors, while reducing power consumption 94 to 95 percent. That could make it practical to run neural networks locally on smartphones or even to embed them in household appliances.

Just as important as the speed of computation is the power requirements drop so much that small battery powered devices — appliances, phones, cameras, wearables — can effectively run neural-net-based programs.

This could have massive impact, broadening the application of AI.

I’m enjoying the Slate My Parent’s Work-Life Balance series, like this one from Amelia Garbus Cogan, age 13:

How well do your parents balance work and life at home?

They’re very good at it.

I think one of the really special things about my parents is that I see them as much or almost as much as I’d see my parents if they were stay-at-home. Even when they’re on trips and my brother and I stay at my grandparents’, they’re really hands on and we’ll get texts from them like, Are you OK? Are you OK? They’re very overprotective.

What I find interesting is that the kid’s lives seem so normal even when the parents are Shaolin monks, or famous movie makers.

Contrast that with The terrible job advice parents give to their millennial kids.

RSA (Royal Society for the Arts) has suggested that the UK create a new sovereign wealth fund, the proceeds of which would be directed to grants of £10,000 to workers involved in changes to their working lives.

The model is derived from the UK student grant system, and those who prosper later in their careers might have to pay slightly higher taxes to compensate for the grant.

I will have to take a longer look, but offhand I don’t see why such a model couldn’t be a new model in the US, especially considering how little US corporations are investing in the training of the US workforce.

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