Cheap or costly unity

There is a fast, cheap way to attain unity in an organization. Just get the minority to keep quiet (or fire them). Change in an organization can be complicated by a minority who question the change, who ask the same hard questions several times and are not easily reassured that the details will eventually be worked out to their satisfaction. Costly unity is when both the majority and the minority take the time to explain their perspectives and concerns, and to listen to one another. Any plan or proposal can benefit from being analyzed and critiqued not just by its supporters but its opponents.

Airplane ailerons are an example of this. The Wright brothers really deserve their reputation as aviation pioneers. They were not just the lucky ones who got an airplane off the ground first or had the best publicity. Their success came because they did systematic aeronautical research, doing detailed wind tunnel testing and advancing the systematic data collection that Otto Lilienthal had started (in the process discovering and correcting a significant error in Lilienthal's data). The Wrights realized a key to flight was being able to control the bank of the airplane. But their method of doing this wasn't the best (as we can see in hindsight). Their idea was to make the plane bank by warping the wing. But aircraft designers soon realized that it made better sense to have the wing stay unwarped, and have a small part of the wing able to pivot to control bank. It is hard to imagine metal airplanes the size of a 747 (or even a DC3) ever being built if the whole wing had to warp.

But ailerons were controversial in the early years of aviation. There are echoes of this in the wikipedia page on the history of the aileron . It is hard to say who first invented them and the Wright Brothers didn't like the idea. What if aviation pioneers had pleaded with each other for unity? "Let's unite around the Wright Flyer, it works the best. Wilbur and Orville have done the most research. Let's trust them". If the aileron proponents had been convinced, we might never have gotten past aircraft made of wood covered with silk. What other material can allow for the whole wing to warp? But aileron proponents did not keep silent, others realized that was the better way to control bank, and today we have 747s. Sometimes the majority can learn from the minority. Who of us can claim the full wisdom of God? Wouldn't God be most likely to distribute different aspects of his wisdom to different people? The Wright Brothers had a pretty good airplane, but the aileron idea made better airplanes.

The hard part is when you're a minority, wondering how much noise to make. Is your concern selfish, because you're putting your circumstances or your job ahead of everything else in the organization? Or are you seeing something that others aren't seeing?

The hard part when you're in the majority, recognizing that someone who keeps bringing up the same concern might have a point, they might not be refusing to go along or blocking progress for selfish reasons. Maybe your plan or policy has a tweak needed, and listening to the minority can show it to you.

So let us take the time and effort to attain costly unity.

An earlier post on unity: Dwelling in Unity

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