Echo

Cacophony

[kuh-kof-uh-nee]

noun, plural cacophonies.

1. harsh discordance of sound; dissonance

2. a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds


One of the favorite films of my children’s earlier years is a Disney film called Brother Bear.  It is full of talking animals, Indian mysticism, and a diverse group of characters finding and appreciating their authentic identity.

Two characters with really no other role in the movie than to be comic relief, are a couple of rams. They not only endlessly slam their racks together but also believe that the echo from their screaming “shut up” across a canyon is actually the answer of another animal.  Idiotic, right?  Fits for a children’s movie.

Sadly, I found I was living a very similar experience.  As an institutional investor for many years, deeply saturating myself in the news and numerous economic tea leaves is how I formed an opinion that allowed me to outperform (hopefully) the market.  It was part of my job to immerse myself in what everyone was saying.

As we migrated from the public trust we found in national news from relatively few media outlets to an ocean of online sources, the news became increasingly opinionated and shaped for consumption.  We no longer looked unblinking at the national news but winked toward the brand and flavor that echoed what we most wanted to hear.

I increasingly listened to only the things that affirmed my strongest opinion and became incredulous that anyone could believe anything different.  I dug my heels in and the dissenting voices did the same.  As the 2008 election crescendoed, my echo chamber had convinced me that everything I believed was 100% right and what the others believed was just as wrong. As the cacophony of voices hit their shrill climax... 

I turned it all off.  

My sense of frustration, fear, and lack of patience were all finding their peak as well.  The discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds started to feel like noise.  We were standing on opposite sides of the canyon, immersed in our own echo chambers, shouting at each other with the only result being more dissonance.  Neither was being heard by the other and no one was having their opinion altered, even in the slightest.

The biggest casualty of this war seemed to be a loss of hope: the most essential ingredient for change.

So why are we talking about this in a leadership post?  Because the best leaders I know, don’t live in echo chambers.

They:

  • surround themselves with truth tellers
  • mine for hidden conflict and disagreement
  • do 360 reviews
  • ask for honest feedback (both good and bad) and take it seriously

We encourage companies, teams, and individual leaders to mine for truth from one another.  To not only appreciate and celebrate more, but also speak honestly about their challenges.  We help them mine for truth, candidly deal with problems, agree to decisions, and then drive accountability into their culture.

We are seeing hope, commitment, and momentum rise.  We are seeing clarity and unanimity despite the noise.  There is no currency in living in an echo chamber (for cartoon rams or for business leaders).  

While it is not always easy to factor the feedback of others into your decision making, it is way easier than trying to get buy-in and execution from a team that has no ownership or investment in the decision they are being asked to execute.

Consider

  • Do you have people in your life who don’t agree with you on everything?
  • Do you openly encourage dissenting opinions or perspectives in your personal or professional life?
  • Is soliciting open feedback “baked into” your meeting agendas and overall meeting governance?
  • Do you think unspoken differences of opinion are affecting the quality of the decisions you are making?  The level of buy-in of your team members?