Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

You Don't Want `Yes Men' When You Need Answers

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

You Don't Want `Yes Men' When You Need Answers

Article excerpt

"I am a kind of paranoid in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy."

J.D. Salinger

Businesspeople have so much to worry about that it seems unfair to ask them to worry about people trying to please them. Still, while executives no longer have "yes men," they have a modern equivalent: the team player. Sure, you want to hire positive, upbeat people. And you want to be a good leader, which makes your employees good followers. In fact, speaking of following, most career advice includes watching your boss and imitating. Just recently I read another dreary article on the "dilemma" of casual dress days; predictably, the advice was "mimic the boss." In other words: If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's probably the duck's assistant. This conformity contributes to making the corporate pond a much more agreeable place to work. But what happens when it's time to evaluate a new idea, especially the boss's new idea? Quack? It isn't usually the case that employees are afraid to criticize an idea, but that they are predisposed to be helpful and supportive. What's more, we all have a natural tendency to search out confirming information. (If you give research subjects a hypothesis and then ask them to test it, they will tend to find confirming data, even though confirming and nonconfirming information exists in equal measure.) Quack. Quack. So, does this mean you have to hire disagreeable people? No, but you might want to bring in Dr. Richard Gooding, a guy looking for trouble. He's a former college professor who devotes most of his time to consulting. Gooding has made a study of bad business decisions, actually going around and asking executives, "What's the worst strategic decision you've ever made?" and putting together a grid of what can go wrong. (If you'd like a free copy of the two-page grid, call Gooding company's, Strategic Advantage, at 602-759-7562 and they'll send you one. Or write to me: Dale Dauten, King Features, 235 East 45th Street, New York, N. …

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