Leading Blog






05.17.11

Do You Have a Virus in Your Group?

It’s not unusual to find in a group, a person that just doesn’t seem to fit in; someone we would rather do without. Often we find them irritating simply because they are coming from a different perspective—a different agenda—than the rest of the group. While this can be annoying, these people provide a very important service to the group. Consider the experience Rhode Island School of Design president John Maeda relates in Redesigning Leadership:
Working in a group where there are considerable differences and disagreements can be a pain. When I was in my twenties I worked at a small foundation in Tokyo. There was one gentleman whom everyone disliked. I asked the director, a wise and esteemed scientist who cofounded one of the largest corporations in Japan, why he didn’t just fire the guy. He gave me a quizzical look, as if that would be idiotic, and then replied, “Well, we need him, because an organization is like the human body. It needs viruses like him so the body can learn how to survive and remain strong.
Abraham Lincoln famously said, "I don't like that man. I must get to know him better." In like manner, Maeda says that after he began speaking with “the virus” more often he began to see his unique value. He had a different background from the rest of the team and therefore brought a different perspective. His point of view helped him to avoid making certain kinds of errors.

When we understand the unique value each person brings to the group, we can learn to appreciate the friction that sometime arises—maybe even see it as the learning opportunity it is.

The German poet Heinrich Heine once remarked, “Great genius takes shape by contact with another great genius, but less by assimilation than by friction.” Maeda adds, “Learning is said to be most potent when ‘cognitive dissonance’ occurs. Said more simply, we learn best when we are wrong.” Cognitive differences can lead to progress, understanding and wisdom.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:57 PM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Teamwork



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