Words Matter!

Words Matter! Recent domestic terrorism may be multiply determined but decades of research on aggression remind us that anger makes us predisposed to aggression but it is triggers such as the presence of guns or violent messaging that turn that anger into overt aggression. Politicians and everyday citizens need to bear responsibility for the consequences of their vitriolic speech.


Wonderful review of “in defense”: Wall Street Journal

A review by Philip Delves Broughton in the May 10, 2018 Wall Street Journal is lengthy, thoughtful and “gets it”.  I’ll post 3 small sections of that review as it well describes parts of the content of “In defense of troublemakers..”

“.. don’t ever preface your opposition to a proposal by saying: “Just to play devil’s advocate . . .” If you disagree with something, just say it and hold your ground until you’re convinced otherwise. There are many such useful ideas in Charlan Nemeth’s “In Defense of Troublemakers,” her study of dissent in life and the workplace.

But if this one alone takes hold, it could transform millions of meetings, doing away with all those mushy, consensus-driven hours wasted by people too scared of disagreement or power to speak truth to gibberish. Not only would better decisions get made, but the process of making them would vastly improve.

Continuing…the review: The benefit/cost ratio

“It’s only through criticism that concepts receive proper scrutiny. “Repeatedly we

find that dissent has value, even when it is wrong, even when we don’t like the dissenter, and even when we are not convinced of his position,” she writes. “Dissent . . . enables us to think more independently” and “also stimulates thought that is open, divergent, flexible, and original.”

The forces against dissent, though, are mighty. Dissenters tend to be marginalized, if not in the course of one heated discussion then over time. They become the boat-rockers, the agitators, the people wearing the wrong pants at the corporate golf outing. Eventually they are forced out rather than promoted. Ms. Nemeth cites the example of Soviet dissenters, such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, who spent years suffering for their views, and Jeffrey Wigand, the tobacco-industry whistleblower portrayed by Russell Crowe in the 1999 film “The Insider.”

Thinking Differently

Seeing the Magritte exhibition reminded me of the power of art to create uncertainty, to put familiar scenes in unfamiliar contexts and to make us question what we see and what we know. Dissent, in challenging the view we take for granted has that same salutory effect.

My book has launched

My new book “In defense of troublemakers: the power of dissent in life and business” just launched March 20, 2018. t is a personal book as well as a professional one, being the culmination of a lifetime of thinking and researching influence –in particular, the power of both consensus and dissent.

The bottom line is “there are perils in consensus” and “there is value in dissent”. It took me over 200 pages to describe the thinking and work, as well as important news stories that put a ‘face” on the phenomena. It actually took me 250 pages but the editor wanted it streamlined.

I’ve been delighted by the response via numerous interviews by NPR stations, Second City, Groks Science, Freakonomics but was especially pleased by a lengthy and thoughtful review on the entire right column of the Opinion page of the Wall Street Journal (May 10, 2018).

In subsequent posts, I’ll share with you a paragraph or so of that review that taps the applicability of the ideas.  So often we academics write for each other and the ideas remain in journals. I’ve come to appreciate the power of ideas in social psychology and also the difficulty in conveying them well to a broader audience. It’s been a long, reflective and learning process.

An excerpt on diversity (WSJ review)

“Ms. Nemeth’s punchy book also has an invaluable section on diversity in groups. All too often,she writes, in pursuit of diversity we focus on everything but the way people think. We look at a group’s gender, color or experience, and once the palette looks right declare it diverse. But you can have all of that and still have a group that thinks the same and reinforces a wrong-headed consensus.

By contrast, you can have a group that is demographically homogeneous yet violently heterogeneous in the way it thinks. The kind of diversity that leads to well-informed decisionsis not necessarily the kind of diversity that gives the appearance of social justice. That will be a hard message for many organizations to swallow. But as with many of the arguments that Ms.Nemeth makes in her book, it is one that she gamely delivers and that all managers interested in the quality and integrity of their decision-making would do well to heed.”