Dissent in the ranks should be encouraged

Before the hapless delegates get to this nadir in the proceedings, they are also likely to have been lectured on the importance of “disruption”. Disruption, in the modern corporate vernacular, is a post-hoc term applied to companies that have been successful in significantly altering how business is done in a particular market. Uber and Uber Eats, may be the, err, uber examples of services that  have fundamentally changed things for their competitors.


From a corporate perspective, the so-called disruptors are those companies they failed to strangle at birth through acquisitions, legal challenges or other anti-competitive practices. At their conferences, disruption and the disruptors are used to cajole people into being more “agile” and to reinvent themselves and their products and services.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, except there are severe limitations on the effectiveness of merely trying to mimic what they believe led to these competitors being successful. There are simply too many variables, both obvious and extremely subtle, and stuff about being in the right place at the right time, that cannot be easily replicated.

What is rarely emphasised, and indeed seems almost unfashionable, is that other D-word, dissent.

How often do organisations encourage dissent? How often does management “training” emphasise – or dare I say “upskill” their students in – the value of dissent? Unless disruption is a matter of pure chance (should such a thing exist), then almost certainly disruption is the product of some dissent somewhere along the line.

DissentCredit:Kerrie Leishman

Constructive, disciplined dissent is essential for healthy organisations. Time and again, senior managers bemoan the fact they are surrounded by yes-people, leading to groupthink and sometimes catastrophic decision-making. Dissent requires guts, conviction, articulacy and, perhaps most of all, organisational support and tolerance. It actually needs fostering. It is a most valuable form of critical thinking.

So maybe when the windbag in the gleaming suit with teeth to match gets up at the plenary to share a lot of airport bookshop nonsense about the future of work, there is our cue to show some dissent. The bar is looking an attractive destination.

Jim Bright, FAPS, is professor of career education and development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy. Email opinion@jimbright.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright


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