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Discussion Should Be Illegal

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Copyright 2005 Jim McCarthy and Michele McCarthy


Jim:  One of the things we have talked about a lot over the years is that it ought to be against the law to have discussions. Discussions are just lame.

Michele:  It definitely has come to the point that when we’re at a client site or teaching a class and I hear, “OK, then we’re going to discuss this” that I just cringe, because it’s usually such a waste of time.

Jim:  It’s not that it’s a bad idea to exchange ideas. That is necessary. It’s that often discussion is just posture and noise.

Michele:  Also, the larger the group, the worse it gets. I find the quality of discussion degrades as the number of people goes up.

Jim:  It’s as if the discussion quality goes down in proportion to the degree of audience and drama potential.

If you add people to the discussion, the bit flow remains the same, but the amount of discomfort and constraint goes up.

Lots of people are constraining their desire to speak, to leave, to fidget, and/or to somehow disrupt.  Sometimes in a meeting of unstructured discussion the biggest real event is the looming shared feeling of regret and loathing for the meeting itself. There is a reason that you squirm in a meeting.

Michele:  What I’ve come to notice is a lack of awareness on most people’s part that time and energy, which is precious, is being wasted.

Unless it’s something really great being discussed, the larger the number of people in the group, the more time and energy that gets wasted.

It’s as if the people who are participating aren’t aware of that or they are aware, but they are in denial.

Jim:  I think it’s more a conspiracy of mediocrity: That if everybody else is going along with waste, you tend to go along with waste.

Michele:  That’s something that I don’t understand, but that’s how it looks to me.

Jim:   A three person group is likely to be much more effective than a 10 person group. Then there are fewer people going along with the waste.

It’s hard to get a quorum on waste among three people.

Michele:  The part that’s difficult for me to understand is why it’s so common for people to go along with allowing their time and energy to be wasted.

Jim:  Well, we’re here to tell you that we have the tools that will prevent the waste of discussion forever. The Core Protocols, and in particular, the Decider Protocol will prevent all waste caused by discussion.

A Decider starts with these words, “I propose.” Those are the most sacred words in the human language, in my view. “I propose.” It trumps everything else in the protocols.

If you say “I propose,” everybody else has to shut up, no matter what’s going on.

Someone can be in the middle of something else and you can just state, “I propose we X”; then there are certain requirements as to what you can propose. For instance, you must propose a single actionable idea. Even if it’s discussion, you can say “I propose we discuss this for 10 minutes,” and that’s much better than the usual endless discussion, but “I propose” is the way you trump inaction and kill discussion.

Michele:  I feel a sense of relief when I hear someone say “I propose.”

Jim:  Because you know something is going to happen or at least you’re going to see who is against something happening.

Michele:  Exactly, you get to see where the team is at. Discussion doesn’t tell you where you’re at for some reason.

Jim:  No, it’s designed to obscure.

Michele:  Right, it obscures. “Where we’re at” means “who’s in, who’s out.”

Jim:  Who wants to do something? Who doesn’t?

Michele:  Who’s a little bit out? Why are they a little bit out? Decider makes group status specific, while discussion really isn’t specific at all.

Jim:  Often when you first start using Decider, there are certain problems that arise that are common like, “I propose we A, then B, and C, and then D and maybe we X, Y, and Z” and so on and so forth for some little while until no one has any concept of what’s being voted on.

Michele:  And that’s breaking the protocol.

Jim:  That’s breaking the protocol, and when someone breaks the protocol, what do you do?

Michele:  Then we have another protocol called, “Protocol Check.”

Jim:  “Protocol Check.”

Michele:  What we would do is, if someone is going on and on, and you say “Protocol Check, what is the proposal?” it’s got to be one thing.

Jim:  Yeah, there’s a little bit of a knack for learning how to break down your BS into single actions.

I just was in a meeting where I proposed something, but I really had two things I wanted to propose. So I followed the protocol and only proposed one. Because I did that, I got a quick “Yes” vote. Then it was easy to get a “Yes” on the second part.

Michele:  It would likely have been more difficult to get team agreement if you tried to cram two proposals into one.

Jim:  Yes, that makes it harder to say “yes” and is why the protocol is designed that way. The whole system is designed to get everybody to stay in unanimity or stay in alignment.

Typically a team is already in alignment and you just need to take advantage of that.

Michele:  We see this over and over. The team takes a vote and they already agree, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the discussion that was going on before the vote.

Jim:  You’ve GOT to take a vote. The other interesting thing is people are resistant to voting. If you go “I propose X, Y, Z or I propose X,” they won’t vote. You have to follow it with, “1, 2, 3.” Now that is cheesy as all get up, but it is a simple fact.

Michele:  It is a mystery of human behavior, but that “1,2,3” gets people to vote.

Jim:  Yeah, cheesy…

Michele:  I don’t even think it’s cheesy, it just works.

Jim:  It’s just interesting to me that people won’t vote when you say “I propose.”

Michele:  There’s resistance to moving on.

Jim:  A group of humans ostensibly working together to have actions, will refuse to vote unless you say “1, 2, 3.”

I think it’s because they want to know that it’s going to be a fair vote and that they’re all going to vote at the same time. “1,2,3” prevents people from looking at each other to see what the vote’s going to be before they vote and so on. There are certain other rules that kick in if you vote “no.”

Michele:  This is a relatively new thing to me, how to deal with no’s? We used to say, you can just say “no,” and that’s it. You can kill the whole thing.

Jim:  When you say “no”, the proposal is dead, you’ve killed it. Each person can veto.

Michele:  When you say “no,” you’re asked what will it take to get you in and you can say “double down on the no,” or “I won’t get in no matter what,” which means “I am killing this and there is nothing you can do.”

But the way we deal with this now is, “If you do that, it better be a rare thing.” Otherwise, if it’s not a rare thing, then what it means, in our experience, is that you just kill momentum as a habit.

Everyone else wants to go and you want to kill it.

Jim:  When you vote “no,” you may be killing momentum; what we call “stopping the show.”

Stopping the show is never a good thing unless everybody is going to walk off a cliff, which is rare. People don’t really vote to walk off a cliff very often…

Michele:  But it does happen sometimes, so veto power remains in the protocol.

The other thing, we’ve added is that the second you say “I won’t get in,” you better expect that everyone is going to turn and face you and ask “What’s your better idea?”

In other words, if you’re going to kill the momentum, you’d better start it up again with something even better, right now.

And you can’t just say “I’ll think about it.”

Jim:  And you can’t just say that you prefer to do nothing.

Michele:  What I’ve noticed in watching BootCamp team after BootCamp team is that team momentum is very important and what you don’t want is to make it easy to kill team momentum.

You want the team to really value its momentum and have lots of protocols in place that will support momentum.

Jim:  Oftentimes, people will vote “no” if they feel they need more information. This is usually less than ideal, but typically the person gets the information and votes “yes.” But you can’t just vote “no” for no reason and expect to get away with it.

Frequently, someone will vote “no” expecting a better idea to magically appear later. That too is illegal.

You can’t vote “no” and say, “I think we can come up with a better idea than this.” If you don’t know the better idea, you can’t vote “no.”

Michele:  The way I coach people if they’re thinking “Oh, well I need information before I can decide ” is I tell them “OK, put your hand flat” meaning “I’ll go along with this and I won’t sabotage it.”

Then later, after you have thought about it, if it’s the wrong idea and you have a better idea, you can propose that. You can change the momentum of the team, but you don’t stop everyone so that you can think it over. That’s not a smart thing to do and it doesn’t work.

Jim:  The goal of Decider is to aggregate ideas, aggregate intelligence, and create an ecology for ideas where the best ideas prevail. A team that’s properly deciding, in my experience, is almost infallible because they are so smart.

You can trust a team of five or six people voting way more than you can trust an individual deciding.

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