Echo Chambers Are Bad For Innovation
Peter Thiel, one of the billionaire founders of PayPal, recently announced that he is leaving the Bay Area, mostly due to ideological reasons (he is a libertarian and supported Donald Trump during the 2016 election). He is relocating himself and his business to Los Angeles in order to escape what he calls the perceived Silicon Valley monoculture – which he likely sees as extreme progressivism. Similarly, last year Tim Ferris moved to Austin from the Bay Area, “alarmed by what he determined to be an increasingly prevalent closed-mindedness and lack of inspiration“.
It’s also been recently reported in the Wall Street Journal that many other prominent investors and entrepreneurs are starting to leave, or have already left, as well. The real or perceived danger of an echo chamber or possible monoculture can lead to all manner of groupthink and a general lack of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking.
If you have to “check your speech” before you say it, aren’t you just as bad as a “ShouldWe“, deciding if you should do something before you even know if it is possible? You need minds of all kinds in order to innovate effectively, and if conditions have made some too afraid to speak up – no matter the topic – then those contributions will never be heard – and we will have no idea if they are good or not.
Do you care if your next potential billion-dollar business comes from the mind of a liberal, conservative, libertarian, old, young, white, black, Asian, gay, lesbian, Trans, queer, individual contributor, manager, director, vice president or C-suiter? No, you don’t, and you shouldn’t.
The chilling effect on internal corporate free speech where only “approved” voices can be heard from creates a deleterious atmosphere, stifling any speech and especially any which challenges the status quo – which is exactly what disruptive innovation does. When some of your people feel that they are not allowed to speak up lest they fear ostracism or persecution, what do you think will happen?
First of all, they will keep those ideas to themselves, and secondly, if the environment gets bad enough, they will, like Peter Thiel and Tim Ferris, leave your echo chamber to go somewhere where they have a better chance of being heard. Maybe even to a competitor or a small startup which may someday rival your own company.
To get the best from all of your people, don’t silence some voices in lieu of others. Make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to speak, and promote free speech and tolerance of opposing views within your organization.
The correct response to speech that you don’t like is counter-argument, not silencing the speaker.
Sometimes we do this unwittingly when we let senior management dictate our thinking, as we figure its okay since its coming from them. That thinking is just as fallacious as thinking that good ideas will only come from non-white, gay females.
No one person or group has a monopoly on innovation – and everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. When you, through your action or inaction, silence anyone or any group, then who knows what innovation you are leaving on the table?