Don’t work in an echo chamber

Back to live events.

It’s great to be able to attend conferences in person again.  The IPA Effworks week of sessions was vibrant, informative and stimulating.

But have you ever (at other conferences of course, never the IPA), ended up feeling that you have been shortchanged because the panel on stage just end up agreeing with each other, or selling their particular point of view without real scrutiny from the other panellists?

In an era when disruption is everywhere and new models of thinking are essential, it can be disappointing if you don’t hear or engage in real debate.

One IPA EffWeek panel particularly made me reflect on this, (and not just because it was the one that I was chairing.)

The idea of the panel, from the IPA director of marketing strategy Janet Hull OBE, was inspired.  The Battle of the Shares, which I presided over, involved three spokespeople with different views on the best solution for planning campaigns.  Which is best: Share of Voice ? (championed by Shula Sinclair, Msix CSO); Share of Search? (James Hankins, VP of Sage); Share of attention? (Mike Follett, MD, Lumen).  You can see their rationales here.

There was absolutely no chance in this instance of a panel that began and/or ended up in deep agreement with itself.  Each panelist presented their case, and then was grilled by the other two.  And then by the erudite audience, online and in real life. Then there was a shout out vote (the least scientific part of the process) and audience participation was superb and lively.

It was a great format, and it made me reflect that we can miss opportunities for driving the argument forward if we are too quick to jump to consensus.  As Matthew Syed puts it in Rebel Ideas, the power of diverse thinking, if we only surround ourselves with those who think like us, life is an echo chamber and that gets you literally nowhere in terms of getting to grips with grim realities of today’s chaotic times.

The panellists above are to be congratulated for being brave enough to have a strong debate in front of the entire IPA effectiveness community.  Not a prospect everyone would relish.

The ancient Jewish court the Sanhedrin had diversity of thinking baked in.  If there was a unanimous vote to convict the accused, then it was thrown out and the accused was exonerated. He walked away free.    The assumption was that if no-one could speak in favour of the accused, then the jury had developed group thinking.  Group thinking is of course unfair and unhelpful. 

Yet we love to agree with each other.  It’s a basic human instinct, it’s a remnant perhaps of the necessities for survival of the tribe in stone age times.

Every time a panel ends up agreeing, the opportunity for a new unthought of route is lost.  Every time you vote on ideas in a workshop openly, and everyone can see which ideas have the most votes, then the chance of real innovation is diminished.  Innovation and Herd behaviour don’t mix. If no one can find an issue with the proposed solution then maybe you haven’t looked at it hard enough.  If you only ever hear from your team that they agree with you then you’re surely not getting the best out of them.

Design for disagreement as a crucial stage for building new ideas.   If there is too much focus on consensus the lost opportunity might cost you the future.

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