Foreword by Phil Aldridge, Technical Director of FunctionEight Limited.  Not the usual sort of article I would blog due to its lack of technical content but it is something we at F8 come across on many occasions.  Projects where shall we say is “designed by committee” are often the hardest projects to get across the line because everyone wants to have their input and the final solution is diluted in impact and often delayed in the timeline.

You may have heard the joke that asserts a camel is just a horse designed by a committee. The truth behind the humor is that groups suffer from something called “groupthink,” which means they tend to lose the benefits of independent thought and just agree with each other. Everyone ends up patting themselves on the back rather than creating something great.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos solves that problem with a two-pizza rule.  Basically, if a team cannot be fed by two pizzas alone then that team is too large. The brain cannot handle a lot of people, so it is not a surprise that smaller teams tend to work better. If you find independent ideas are suffering in your organization, it might be time to suggest instituting the two pizza or even a one pizza rule.

We are rational beings. It is what makes us human, but we are not rational all the time, or in every situation. Sometimes we just follow our instincts.

Suppose you want to buy a car and you have two choices. One of them is faster, safer and cheaper than other. The other just feels right for you. Which would you choose?

If power, safety and price are important to you, and you are a rational person, you should choose the first one. However, many people choose the second one and are happy with their choice.

One of the problems of many organizations is that they over-rationalize. Every single decision has to be put on a spreadsheet, budgeted, evaluated, and the risks have to be measured and mitigated. Those organizations may be missing opportunities.

Let’s say John has a hunch for a new product. He doesn’t know why it would work, he just thinks it’s something he would use. How can he convince others?

So he starts asking around and other people would use it too. Now it’s a little easier to convince the top management, but they still aren’t on board with the idea and ask him to make a business plan.

By now that little idea is a powerpoint presentation, full of forecasts, data, etc., so the board can make a rational decision regarding the product. It took him a month to do it.

The board decides against John’s idea, because the forecasts are not reliable and it’s difficult to approve a budget for the product right now.

Meanwhile, at a competing organization, Sarah has the same idea. She starts asking around and people think it’s innovative. She goes to the CEO and he says that she has a small budget to make a pilot. By the end of the month she has a prototype and it works. People like it. She goes back to the CEO and asks for more money. Now she has a product. It is a big success.

People’s instincts are manifestations of the unconscious mind. Since they are not conscious they are very hard to explain, but they are there for a reason. Your unconscious mind is capturing a lot of information and is making very important decisions for you right now, it is that mind that is deciding If you should run for you life or if you should fall in love with person right beside you. We should trust it.

Groups, on the other hand, have very little instincts. Groups decisions tend to be rational. The bigger the group, the more rational the decision. That’s because it’s very hard to communicate those unconscious thoughts. If we are not aware of them, how can we communicate them to others. If just one of the members of the group doesn’t agree with us, he’ll use a rational way to explain why our instinct would not work, and since we can’t even put our thoughts into words we can’t counter-argue.

The problem in John’s organization is that he couldn’t explain why the product would be great not because he didn’t know, but because he wasn’t capable of explaining something intangible.

I’m not saying that we should act on every single hunch that we have, but we have to at least consider it and give it a chance if it feels like it’s a good idea.

On we try to consider every single idea. We listen to everyone and try to figure out if it’s worth to move forward. We then break the idea down to it’s basic functionality and try to make it work as simply and economically as possible, and see what our users think of it. If they like it, then we improve it–otherwise we just kill it.

Next time someone comes to you with an idea, consider giving it a shot, even if it doesn’t make much sense.


Original Article created by: Renato Steinberg

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