The Importance of The Dissenting Voice and the Chaordic Path

From WBro D Hudson, Editor and Alumni of the Freemasons Leadership Program 2018

Last Edition I wrote about the cognitive bias known as the “Dunning–Kruger effect” and had some great feedback with several experienced people linking it to “The Peter Principle” (see right).

Thanks to those who contacted me to make comment and discuss.

As a reminder, The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias where people over estimate their cognitive ability. Simply, they think they are smarter and more knowledgeable than they are, leading to a mistaken, but often firmly held belief, that they hold expertise in a subject they know little about. Their lack of self-insight makes them rate their as much higher than it actually is. This creates a false sense of self-confidence that often leaves them fixed on faulted ideas, beliefs and plans. We need to be vigilant against this, not just in others, but in ourselves; no one is immune to Dunning-Kruger.

The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle is a concept in management developed by Laurence Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their "level of incompetence". In other words, a person is promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent. The phrase was introduced in the 1969 book The Peter Principle and became popular as an explanation of the shortcomings of promotion in hierarchical organizations.

Dunning says the “Dunning–Kruger effect” is particularly dangerous in authoritarian leaders; especially when they don’t have anyone who can speak honestly to them about their mistakes. "You get into a situation where people can be too deferential to the people in charge.” Dunning notes plane crashes that could have been avoided if aircrew had spoken up to an overconfident pilot. He also mentions medical disasters where other staff we not able to question doctors, particularly surgeons. My favourite title in articles describing this was “Climbing Mt. Stupid” but the web is full of tragic tales of Dunning-Kruger at work. Several make reference to “Dr Death” - former neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch who was sentenced to life in prison in 2017 for maiming patients. “His performance was pathetic,” one co-surgeon wrote about Duntsch after a botched spinal surgery. “He was functioning at a first- or second-year neurosurgical resident level but had no apparent insight into how bad his technique was.”

Visual Representation of truth

The solution to Dunning-Kruger is self examination, referencing opinions from proven experts, widely referencing facts and information - critical thinking, applying a process of logic and empiricism, testing outcomes and humility. However there were a few things I missed. One is the importance of Dissenting Voices.

The Dissenting Voice can be critical to overcoming problems mentioned in last edition like poor leadership or decisions and biases like Dunning-Kruger and Group Think.

The Dissenting Voice comes from those whose opinion runs counter to the mainstream voice or conventional collective thought. They can be disruptive and challenging (that’s their whole point and value!), but when well managed, can lead to important observations and positive changes in collective action. Knowing how to manage them and which Dissenting Voice to embrace resides in something we often mention and highly value in Freemasonry, yet do not define; Wisdom.

Good Leaders know the importance of diverse opinion, and the combined power of Good Judgement (Wisdom) with The Dissenting Voice(s).. The history of Warfare, especially the perpetuation of “going over the top” (the frontal bayonet charge against machine gun) in WW1, is a prime example of resultant tragedy when dissenting voices are silent or silenced. (And triumph when listened to and then empowered, viz Australia’s General Monash at Battle of Hamel [4 July 1918] where combined arms were used widely for the first time to great effect achieving all objective within 93 minutes).

Anyone who has worked in management knows the power of a Collegial Approach and how groups will generally get better results than individuals, especially when working on complex problems. It’s why we form Boards, Committees and Workgroups. During the Freemasons Victoria Leadership Course in 2018, we were given a survival problem to solve as individuals and then came together as a group to do the same, in every case the group achieved a better outcome than the lone individual. That outcome is typical of the exercise. I have often seen this fruitfully at work both in the Boardroom and also in Lodge.

The Dissenting voice gives not only a different view, but it also often gives permission for others with similar concerns or wise perception to speak up. This is why minority voices are so essential in any group discussion.

Even Secondary School Students will be introduced the “Six Thinking Hats” of Edward de Bono; a tool for group discussion and decision making where people take roles to approach problems from certain points of view. This purposefully introduces the Dissenting Voice through the “Black Hat”. These hats are;

The White Hat that calls for information known or needed.

The Red Hat that approaches the problem with feelings, hunches and intuition.

The Black Hat is judgment -- the devil's advocate or why something may not work. (The Black Hat often plays the role of the “Dissenting Voice”).

The Yellow Hat takes on the role of brightness and optimism.

The Green Hat focuses on creativity: the possibilities, alternatives and new ideas.

The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process.

Ironically in Freemasonry, represented by the colour “Craft Blue” – while we often have a lot of Red, Yellow, Green and Black hats, yet it is often the Blue Hat to manage the thinking process which is lacking.

In some spheres, Freemasonry can sometimes be a very hierarchical and authoritative. There has been a lot of rhetoric about trying to change that, but recently at an Installation attendees were informed the current 17 Districts were to be abolished and consolidated into 9 and that Lodges not Grand Lodge would become the focus. Sounds good in part, but I wonder if Lodges have been asked or if this is yet another example of Top Down Management? Certainly the recent temporary “merging” of Bayside and Central is not popular with all, but indeed, many members might not even know of the District System, much less identify with it. How many of you have even read the “District Principles” Paper? I have, but I admit I put it aside in despair – there are Dissenting Voices which say several Districts should be split rather than consolidated... Are they being heard? Are they speaking up? Some of these voices have actually run Districts and have direct experience in them.

Recently I have seen several examples of a highly controlled and micromanagement approach and it got me thinking of another concept introduced in the Freemasons Leadership Program – The Chaordic Path. This is a concept which sees the best creatively, collective action and problem solving taken in an environment between Chaos and Control – the graphic below quickly illustrates the idea;

The Chaordic Path in Freemasonry

If we are truly looking to change Freemasonry for the better, we must find the sweet spot between “Stiffing Control” and Chaos. If we continue to employ Top Down Management, we will simply see more of the same, rather than a path between Chaos and Order that leads us to the new, collective learning, real collective innovation and renewal. Instead of relying on controlling our organizations or communities from the top down, many leaders today see the need to access the collective intelligence and collective wisdom of everyone, which can be, at times, a “messy” process until we reach new insight and clarity. Again, I see the need for Blue Hats to managing the thinking process.

In the words of one writer;

“At the edge of chaos” is where life innovates – where things are not hard wired, but are flexible enough for new connections and solutions to occur. New levels of order become possible out of chaos. There is a path toward common ground, co-creation, and wise and strategic action. There is a “sweet spot” of emergence with tangible results. If we are looking for innovative, new solutions we will find them in a place between chaos and order – the chaordic path. The practice of chaordic leadership resides in the place between chaos and order. When facing new challenges that cannot be met with the same way we are currently working, we need to learn new ways of operating. It is during these times of uncertainty and increased complexity, where results cannot be predicted that leaders need to invite others to share diverse knowledge to discover new purpose and strategies and decide the way forward.”