Consensus is for suckers


We have all heard on at least one occasion that we should strive for consensus in the decision-making process. This sounds simple enough, but is it something we should really aim for?  According to Wikipedia, “Consensus is the community resolution when opposing parties set aside their differences and agree on a statement that is agreeable to all, even if only barely.”  Doesn’t sounds quite as positive a goal now does it?


Why is consensus good?

Consensus is actually a good thing from an execution standpoint:

  • When you have a team that works together to reach a decision, you have a team that is more likely to stand behind the decision.
    • Since they have become a proponent of the decision, they will be more likely to voice their support to outsiders
    • They will work to ensure that the decision/goal is achieved. This is useful when you are incrementally improving a process or product as they will be the team that has influence over the outcome.

Why is consensus bad?

On the flip side of the execution piece, consensus is bad from an innovation standpoint:

  • Dynamics of groups often force consensus because dynamic/dominant characters tend to push everyone to their side and peer-pressure forces the stragglers to join the majority
    • This limits the number of inputs which can reduce the chance of new ideas
  • Innovation rarely comes from consensus because people are not likely to agree on something revolutionary and novel
    • In order to gain consensus you often have to give up on some of the more audacious aspects of the idea



In conclusion, you need to determine your goals of a project when deciding how hard to press for consensus. If you are working to improve existing processes/products then consensus can be a fine goal.

However, if you are trying to shake things up and change the world, then consensus will get in the way of your goals. Do you think Steve Jobs cared about consensus? No, he cared about making something amazing.

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