Power corrupts

Mark at Anecdote has a telling story of how a collaboration space was successfully undermined. Here’s how his client explained it:

Early on this place was used all the time. I loved it and brought my team here for regular meetings and with the shortage of formal meeting rooms, I had lots of my smaller meetings here as well. The place always had a great ‘buzz’ about it. But the design had a big flaw, the executive offices were all positioned overlooking the atrium. One day I was called into the office of an executive who told me they considered I was spending too much of my time in the atrium (collaboration space). Apparently others had similar experiences. Nowadays hardly anyone comes here. We feel we are being watched.

This reminds me of the excellent ChangeThis manifesto by Matthew May. He explains an experiment he ran.

At the off-site, there were about 75 people of varying degrees of seniority, ranging from field supervisors to senior execs. I gave the assignment, one of those group priority exercises whereby you rank a list of items individually and then as a group and compare (sort of a “wisdom of crowds” exercise to show that “we” is smarter than “me”). This specific exercise required you to rank 25 items with which you’ve crashed on the moon in relation to how important they were to your survival. NASA had compiled the correct ranking, so there was a clear answer.

I did the exercise with a twist. At each table I put a ringer. I gave the lowest-ranking person the

answer. It was their job to convince the command-control types they knew the right answer.

During the group exercise, NOT A SINGLE CORRECT ANSWER GOT HEARD .

Speaking truth to power. It ain’t easy, is it?

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