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Open Dissent

By Gregorio Rojas - April 11, 2013 2 Comments
I have issue with the idea that open dissent is something that we should encourage. More accurately, I just don’t like the word dissent. I like the concept, but not this representation. The concept, I feel, is dead right. If you are not familiar with open dissent I have included a couple of links for you below.
Until recently I would not have been able to describe this concept to you in succinct manner.  It never struck me to call this behavior dissent. Going forward I propose that we do away with our talk of dissent, specifically “open dissent”, and replace it with “diversity of thought”.
Stay with me. I know it sounds like I am splitting hairs but the presentation is very important and I think it bears thought.
Although its meaning does not imply anything bad, I do not think I have ever used the word, dissent, in a good context. It’s always used in a bad context, for example: “Do not create dissent” or “There is dissent among the troops”.
Dissent is not a word that gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling. You do not want to be around dissent and you certainly do not want to be accused of causing or fostering dissent. That type of dissent leads to dysfunction. If there was a department that was charged with creating dissent it would probably be called The Department of Dissent and Disorder.
On top of this, open dissent gives the impression that we want to keep people from hiding it. Which, of course, we do since hiding it would be terrible and inevitably lead to true dissent. The mere notion that it’s something people would hide implies it is deleterious act.
Diversity of thought”, however, connotes no such ill feelings and, in my opinion, more clearly highlights the desired behavior: think; think differently and be open to different thoughts. This is something you can get behind and encourage. No one is going to feel threatened should they be accused of thinking things through and considering other people’s ideas. There is nothing to hide and so you exercise this tool often, in the open and rampantly.
We have removed the need to manage a bad behavior and replaced it with an environment that naturally fosters thought and open communication. Instilling this type of attitude in your teams will help eliminate the desire and opportunity of true dissent to grow. The sense of ownership within the team, combined with a few other cultural things, will curtail this since no one wants to see their own ship sink. The teams will self-police and weed out many of the dissenting members because, after all, it’s their company that would be jeopardized.  (There is more to elaborate on this point but that will be in another blog post)
The underlying reason for promoting this activity is not just about keeping politics in check. It’s not just about bring those who would hide in the shadows scheming into the light. It is about producing better products and ideas. It’s about innovation. It’s about a reexamination of what we perceive to be constraints and discovering new possibilities. If there was going to be a department in charge of this it would be called the Department of Innovation and it would make you a boat load of money.
In this context, I can now highlight the deeper aspect of our mission at Sabio. Yes, our mission to create a diverse workforce with respect to the currently underrepresented groups in technology cannot be clearer. In doing so, however, we will also be building a workforce with a potential for disruptive innovation that has never been seen. 
It is our intent to build this workforce in Los Angeles. 
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