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Smart people ask smart questions



The question I want to reflect on is, “how come a group of super intelligent, top class performers can make some really dumb decisions?”  And by really dumb, I mean costly to companies, costly to men, and sometimes costly to lives?


Researchers have gathered data, neuroscientists and psychologists have analyzed their findings … they all reach the same conclusion: individual intelligence has nothing to do with collective intelligence, the latter is much harder to achieve.


Once in a group, behaviors change, people are quick to lose their independence; it’s not that easy to step aside, to challenge accepted ideas, common wisdom or the boss’ decision.


The machine is switched on, the group is in motion, each man is in position:

– The team leader heads the line, proud to be number 1, intoxicated by his power

– The good soldier stands right behind, ‘I’m here boss, you can count on me!”

– Then theres’s Mr Nice Guy, he just wants to have a good time, enjoy himself, no disagreements, no tension

– Next to him we’ll find Mr Politically Correct, he’s not crazy, he would never question the boss, far too dangerous!

– As for Zero Confidence, he would hate to be challenged, so no way will he ever challenge anyone else

– Towards the back, we’ll find Mr Newman, he has only just arrived, so no waves, his focus is on being accepted, he would never risk stepping out of line


So the little army marches on, straight ahead, blindfolded an oblivious!

Did they all agree, maybe not, but no one dared say a word. This is how a weak consensus or the illusion of unanimity can lead to disaster. History provides us with many examples, I remember a fateful day in 1986, the disintegration of the space shuttle Challenger. The decision to launch the shuttle was taken in silent unanimity by highly experienced and qualified staff, all top class performers. Later several team members admitted they were doubtful about the solidity of the joints on the rocket boosters; the joints had been produced in Utah, a state that never registers negative temperatures. The launch was taking place in Florida, the temperature that day was well below zero. Nasa chief of staff, presiding the meeting, asked if anyone had any objections to the launch. A pregnant silence fell on the room, no one blinked an eyelid or said a word. 73 seconds into flight, the shuttle broke up, killing all 7 crew members aboard.

Such stories must make us stop & ask the question, how robust is our decision-making process? Maybe we need to change our positioning, or more important, our mindset? The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing  said SOCRATES

– What if, instead of considering questioning as a mark of ignorance, we considered it as a mark of great intelligence?

– What if, instead of asking closed questions, questions where we already have the answer, OUR answer, we learned to formulate open questions, questions that make people think differently, expand their vision & their perspective?


The benefits are numerous:

– Collective intelligence increases efficiency by the power of 10!

– Ideas shoot, creativity flies

– Relationships are transformed, they move from +/-, “I know everything, you know nothing” to +/+, nobody knows everything, each person sees things from a different angle, we are equals, your perspective is as valuable as mine

– Now we can relax! no more marking points, the scene is set for open and constructive dialogue, active & empathic listening replaces self-affirmation, each person feels heard, valued and understood

– New ideas emerge, the bulbs light up, and suddenly the penny drops, What a great idea, why didn’t we think of this before?


As Einstein so clearly said, “Don’t listen to the person who has the answers; listen to the person who has the questions.”