Doesn’t debate make us stronger?

I’ve decided that ideas that can’t stand up to the scrutiny of a public forum are candidates for the scrap heap.  That doesn’t mean that that everything is up for public debate or that nothing should be ‘skunk works’, but a broad discussion can certainly find a new paradigm or better way of doing things.  A free flow of ideas on a topic are an equally valid approach for choosing Saturday night’s movie or responding to a business challenge or opportunity.

The arguing monks

In his BBC documentary Himalaya, Michael Palin stopped at the Sera Monastery in Lhasa. These famous Tibetan monks are known for engaging every afternoon in vociferous, hand-slapping debates that can last for days.  And on the most mundane of topics.  There is a recognized value to the art of the ‘contact discussion’ even within Buddhism, one of the most peace-loving religions on the planet.  If the simple life of the aesthetic monk is fair game for controversy, certainly our highly varied, complex lives are custom-made for lively argument.


You see it in a recent Mark Cotgrove piece making passionate arguments against Max Pucher’s blog on social BPM where Max stated that “standardization is fine for manufacturing, but you can’t standardize people and how they interact.”  They argue opposite sides of the issue in a space that’s ripe for conversation.  Rather than see the argument as negative, I see it as profoundly positive and it will lead to better definition of the space…and less likelihood of empty promises and ‘vaporware’.  The back-and-forth makes us all defend our own positions and think about all sides of the argument.  We should all be happy to see conversations happening whether the points agree with ours or not.

Our increasingly connected world with no shortage of opinions will take this trend to new places, including inside our everyday work.

The end of autocracy?

The role of manager in the new world involves more facilitation of creativity than simply directing others.  Who’s going to tell the upcoming generation that their opinions aren’t desired or that there’s no forum for their ideas?  Not me.  I’d much rather be leading a team of bright and outspoken, albeit less experienced people and moderate the conversation based on my own people skills and experience.  There’s never an end to ideas so why should there be an end to conversations?  Great ideas don’t often arrive in a flash of brilliance, but rather in a back and forth of trial and error.  The contribution of many is far more powerful and interesting than the brilliance of one.

To the naysayers

This new social BPM is much more than just Twitter connected to orthodox BPM systems (sorry, Max, but feel free to disagree).  It is the chance to bring together all of the owners, stakeholders and interested parties in a single place where a conversation can take place under moderation.  These conversations need to be deliberately attached to the only universal stream that exists in business…process.  Without technology, it is neither deliberate nor discriminate and very likely to be chaotic.  With technology, however, collaboration becomes anti-chaos.

Think of the additional boost as workplaces become more distributed and flexible…


A framework is the key to organizing discussions within the enterprise and becomes more important in the new social workplace.  Frameworks provide the vocabulary and structure inside which the conversations take place.  It doesn’t matter much whether you choose APQC, SCOR or something custom, the most important thing is to help people organize and encapsulate (where it makes sense) conversations that will ultimately drive argument, excellence and competitiveness.  Not only does a framework guide the social taxonomy, but it also provides the linkages between areas of the business so that end-to-end work can be laid out, understood and improved.  The rapid rise of frameworks like SCOR and APQC is a recognition that all ships rise with the common-vocabulary-and-structure tide, inside and outside a particular enterprise.  You can link here to get your free copy of the APQC Frameworks Study that was just published in April and covers these ideas in depth.

Social at work means arguments will happen and moderation will be necessary…and we’ll all win in the process.


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Categories: Future of work, Social / Collaboration

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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4 Comments on “Doesn’t debate make us stronger?”

  1. May 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Chris, I agree with you completely about debate making us stronger. APQC’s PCF is an open standard – we welcome challenges, suggestions, and improvements. What we have published today is not my creation, but rather a curation of what has been shared with APQC over the course of 20 years of doing benchmarking studies and helping organizations to improve their performance and productivity.

    Our objective is to make sure that the tide that rises around our PCF includes as much community input – from people who are actually using the PCF – as possible.

  2. May 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    I agree totally about the value of arguments. It is fairly depressing the way business is done. One or two people are labeled “gurus” and then the rest of the crowd seems to be afraid or unwilling to challenge their opinions. The ego of the gurus themselves inhibits discussion.
    An open forum where every idea is thrown out and there are brainstorming sessions and desk pounding arguments produce far more creative and novel ideas. This is exactly the point I make in my new book “Just a Bunch of Crazy Ideas”.

  3. December 7, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    That’s very educative blog post..

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