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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The Secret to More, Better Ideas

How many times have you held your tongue in the presence of a bad idea? We’ve all been there: Your team’s in a strategy meeting, there’s one sole suggestion on the table, and everyone nods in agreement, even if the idea is obviously sub-par—or flat-out wrong.

No one wants to question the originator of the plan (especially if it’s your boss); no one wants to be the dissenter or the one who extends the meeting past lunch.

It happens all the time. It’s a common occurrence that was proven decades ago by an experiment conducted by Soloman Asch. Asch placed a subject in a room with a group of people who were all aware of the experiment. Then, the group was given a series of visual tests that had quite obvious answers.

At first, the group gave mostly correct answers, and, as expected, the subject answered correctly, too. But eventually, the rest of the group was instructed to start giving a unanimous, incorrect answer. The point was to see if the subject would rely on his eyes and continue responding with correct answers or if he would be swayed by his peers.

Despite all reason, the subject agreed with the group’s incorrect response a whopping 37% of the time. Even though the right answer was obvious, he let the rest of the group sway his response. Because if the rest of the group agreed on a different response, they must be right—right?

This conformity, also known as groupthink, squashes creativity and discourages new, fresh, and innovative ideas—especially in the workplace.

In a recent Forbes article, Chunka Mui explains: “In organizational settings, the tendency to conform, which Ash termed ‘conformity,’ is heightened because the subject is complicated, the answers unclear, there are social and economic bonds that tie a group together, and there is a very human tendency to yield to authority.”

However, in the experiment, if even just one other person in the room went against the group, the subject only went with the majority 5% of the time.

That means that all it takes is one voice speaking up against the group, and others generally feel much more comfortable making other suggestions. If someone simply breaks the ice and throws out a different idea, it’s likely that others will emerge. And all of a sudden, you don’t have to settle for the only idea on the table.

So, you want more, better ideas at work? The next time you’re in a meeting, be the one to speak up. Chances are, there’s at least one other person who’s just waiting for someone else to voice his or her opinion. And that’s when the real creativity will happen.

Photo of light bulbs courtesy of Shutterstock.