Brutal Intellectual Honesty

I’ve been reading a book called Legacy Of Ashes, which is an exhaustive history of the CIA since its founding more than 50 years ago through to 2007. Reading spy stories is always enthralling, but surprisingly, the book is a fascinating case study in management.

The major theme of the book is the value of intellectual honesty, a principle which was often forgotten according to the research compiled by the author. In case after case, from the Korean War to the Bay of Pigs invasion to the second Gulf War, there were consistent organizational failures to present candid assessments of data and a consistent pattern of deception to further political motives.

In contrast, Dominic Orr, the CEO of Aruba Networks, describes his management philosophy of brutal intellectual honesty in this 4 minute Stanford video.

I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but this is the kernel of wisdom from the video:

Brutal intellectual honesty. There are too many decisions to make in too little time. You want to get all the facts on the table, have an honest debate for a period of time, and at the end of the time, make a decision and go. Once ego becomes involved, people have to find a way to save face, which is incredibly time wasting. And if you recall, time is the only competitive resource we have.

According to Dominic, to elicit intellectual honesty from a management team demands coaching and counseling team members individually, so each person is comfortable enough in their environment and confident enough in their own opinions to speak their mind freely. Only then can a team determine the best route to pursue.

This is not an easy task, but all great teams have this working relationship. It’s something we all should aspire to achieve.

Published 2014-12-02 in Best Practices 


Read this next: