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Conforming to wrong is wrong

In the 1950s Solomon Asch conducted a social experiment referred to as the Solomon Asch - Conformity Experiment. It was an experiment to see if an individual would comply with the masses on a decision that was the wrong decision. In a room of eight individuals, seven of which were in on the experiment, each individual vocally compared the length of an individual line to three other lines of different sizes to establish the match. Seven of the individuals had a predetermined synchronized agreement on an incorrect answer, giving the eighth individual an opportunity to agree or disagree. Running the test multiple times, the test results showed that approximately a third of the individuals would agree with the blatantly obvious wrong answer.

The experiment in conjunction with a controlled group showed that the individuals at the time were easily influenced to comply with the masses. There are a variety of papers that connect this level of agreement to the global pulse towards communism at the time. However, the results supported a hypothesis that individuals at this time feared being singled out as an outlier, even when the right answer was so obvious.

Conformity increases when other members of the group are of a higher social status. When people view the others in the group as more powerful, influential, or knowledgeable than themselves, they are more likely to go along with the group. Kendra Cherry - VeryWellMind

The experiment was performed again in the 1980s with a significant shift in the results. Studies by Perrin and Spencer indicated that only one out of 396 tests resulted in the observer not in on the scheme, agreeing with the masses. They argued that there was a cultural shift that had taken place between the 1950s and the 1980s on conformity and obedience, which enabled individuals to occupy a position that was questioned regardless of the consensus.

What if we ran this test today? How would a social media-driven world or anonymous email system influence the ability to question? We now live in a world where we can hide behind our electron-contesting position. In regards to manufacturing, don’t we want people to stand up and call out misalignments to core values of ethics and morals while not turning a around when they observe an unsafe activity? But with a world of social media and empowered anonymous electronic interaction, are we shifting back to being physically obedient followers that are not willing to dissent amongst our peers?

I don’t remember exactly which mentor of mine in the past, however, I remember them saying that you are obligated to dissent. It wasn’t in a context where you are required to be confrontational, but instead, you are obligated to bring data to the discussion and make your point if your point can provide value to the decision. It stresses that you must avoid the unwillingness to bring up questions, facts, or data to a collaborated decision. It isn’t in the form of disobedience, nor is the confrontation an aggressive objection to leadership. It is instead a perspective not previously discussed, answered, or uncovered that guides clarity.

Make the assumption, up and down the chain of command, that your boss, your subordinate knows more than you. And then ask good questions with true genuine curiosity that you want to know the answers to. Jocko Willink - Jocko Podcast

I believe in today’s world, we are drifting back to the ratio of the 1950s that has us not wanting to vocalize our disagreement due to the risk of public humility. And because of this, we have to find ways to encourage organizations to call out obvious misalignments to the mission or at least ask good questions without fear of humiliation.

Putting people in a group doesn’t make them a team. A team is a collection of people with a shared identity who collaborate to achieve a common mission. Each member makes a unique contribution. Turning a group into a team starts with clarifying core values, goals, and roles. - Adam Grant

Consider a situation where someone isn’t tied off correctly and creates a fall hazard. Now imagine each member of your team individually walking up to that scenario. Is your organization the type that everyone would engage and stop the work being done, or would they just accept it to avoid confrontation?

I would assume that each of us wants the type of organization that each individual, regardless of their vertical location in the organizational hierarchy, would stop and engage the individual not properly tied off. Whereas we want individuals to engage and explore the error. We want individuals to explore if the individual is conducting an unknowing mistake due to training gaps, willfully disregarding rules because of an invincible complex, or worse, performing a task in a state of complacency. Regardless, we want any individual to stop any other individual in the act of the job and rectify the problem. We don't want them to be silent or question the action at a later time.

I remain fearful that our culture is drifting away from the obligation to dissent and transitioning to one that is founded on I told you so behind a computer screen. As leaders, we must embrace individuals that push normalcy as a unified high-performance team that challenges the foundations of decisions. We must embrace the hard questions on direction and be grateful to those that push the decisions. This isn’t an embracement of kiss asses, as Jocko mentions, nor is it encouraging disobedience with direction. This isn’t empowering the anonymous complaint line. It is instead a tangible synchronization of one’s individual responsibility to explore the understanding of the group's intent.


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