How one company could have saved money by encouraging dissent

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UnknownI heard this story the other day on the hugely entertaining Freakonomics podcast. That’s available on iTunes. If you like great stories and weird facts about thinking differently, I heartily recommend it to you.

But read this first.

This story is about an American company. They are launching their first store in China. And this company has been preparing to do the launch for five whole years.

The launch is a massive project because China is a huge market. Get things right there and you could take a company to a whole new level.


The only thing is: to say something negative about the company or show dissent is not accepted by the management. They don’t like it.

In companies that either punish their employees for dissent or where there is a perception among employees that their valid criticism will be perceived as damaging to the company, much of the useful information which could indicate problems in the business’ future is lost due to intimidation.

The launch of the new store in China has been managed by seven teams and at the top of all those teams, there is a leader who is responsible for managing a particular part of the launch.

The heads of the company call these seven team leaders into a meeting and ask:

— Are we on track to meet our target of opening next month?

Intimidated by answering to their employers, each one of the seven says:

— Yes, we’ll be able to open next month.

Wisdom of the crowd

At the same time, the company opens an internal market in which every employee has an option that they can place on the outcome of the process to answer the question:

Will we open on schedule (next month)?

Unlike the market at large, insider trading is encouraged. They say that to have more knowledge about the company than everyone else making a bet is fine.

And so they place their options.

  • 90% of employees say: NO – we won’t open on time
  • 10% of employees say: YES – we will open on time.

Unsurprisingly, the 90% of employees prove to be correct. The company’s hostile reaction towards dissent has caused them to believe a myth that 90% of its staff knew to be wrong. Either from gut feeling or insider knowledge.

That myth could have cost them a lot of money. Think of all the contractors they had probably employed based on the idea that the store would be ready. Think of all the sales they probably lost.


So what’s the lesson here?

Our experience of corporate cultures is that those who do not encourage or facilitate dissent from knowledgable voices in the crowd actually harm themselves.

The reason for this is that while management are very good at running a business, often they are not fully aware of what is happening on the ground.

However, the traditional model does not allow for anonymity and when anonymity is not assured, the worry of an employee is that they may lose a job for saying something which contradicts the opinion of an employee.

doopoll removes this worry. We built our whole platform with anonymity in mind. It is impossible to link a response to a looper (respondent). Even with full access to the database, we cannot see who has answered what.

Imagine the time, money and trust the company mentioned above could have saved if they had used doopoll, instead of an intimidating, face-to-face style of decision making.

doopoll could potentially have saved that company millions of dollars.