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In business, leading people and being popular are – unfortunately – very often at odds. This can result in groupthink (averaging thoughts and ideas to keep a consensus of people happy) or other people-pleasing approaches. This means making decisions that are best for those in the room as opposed to what is actually best for the organisation. We know this is a bad thing to do, but it is a trap we can all fall into. Especially if we do our best to avoid conflict. David Ogilvy, one of the world of advertising’s most influential thinkers, was not a fan of people and organisations that were not single minded decision-makers. As this short, funny and true anecdote illustrates.
In his autobiography, ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’ - David Ogilvy recalls how he was once invited to a corporate meeting. To compete for a major account.
David Ogilvy is considered to be one of the most impactful advertising minds that ever lived. And when David entered in the chairman’s board room on this occasion, the chairman said this:
“Mr. Ogilvy, we are interviewing several agencies. You have exactly fifteen minutes to plead your case. Then I will ring this bell and the next agency waiting outside will follow you.
Ogilvy quickly asked:
“How many people will be involved in the decision?”
The chairman replied:
“The twelve members of the Committee here today.”
To which Ogilvy responded:
“Ring the bell.”
As he rose from his chair, smiled, and left the room.
David Ogilvy understood the huge shortcomings of decision by committee. He knew that this approach to decision making almost always resulted in a sub-optimal solution. And we know this here at Harlands too.
Because whilst all of our clients come to us for our specialist expertise, we can very often become a sounding board too. Someone to think with. Someone to help an organisation’s leaders to test ideas with, in a safe place. It works well, because there is no dilution
of ideas or people-pleasing, because there’s no sub-plot or politics. It’s all about what’s best for the business.
In behavioural science there is a well-documented propensity for small committees to drift toward ‘extreme’ decisions. That is, a group of individuals acting as a committee often makes a decision that none of the individuals acting alone would make alone. Even when given the exact same information. Yet, even with this insight, decisions are made this way every day, impacting the growth and trajectory of businesses.
As a general rule, we don’t need committees. We need leaders. Leaders that actually do lead. Leaders that are not afraid to commit to a direction and to move forward.
Seek Them out.
So seek them out. And when you find a leader like this, or when you become a leader like this, that is when the magic happens.