Discount Lines…

I have been told to inform you of this by the Leadership Team…
                                                                                                                                                                                                …or not as the case may be.
I was struck by this concept this week as I had my first few days back at full time work after the holiday season. This expression seemed to come up in emails, phone calls or meetings several times during the week. In effect colleagues using names of senior leaders or senior leadership teams to justify or support a proposal. ’This is what we have to do…and the Leadership Team has endorsed it.’
The more I think about this, the more strange this approach seems. It seems to be based on a belief that my opinion will be influenced by being told that the LT wants the proposal to happen…that I will support something that I may not agree with simply because a leader or LT supports it. Worse still, that whoever is making the proposal is trying to avoid having to convince me of its benefits and importance.
In reality, if we adopt, encourage or accept this approach, it can look and feel more like an abdication of our responsibility as leaders, colleagues or team members. It doesn’t matter whether it’s us who use these expressions, ask to know who has approved an idea, or don’t resist when we hear them – all are as unhelpful as each other. The moment we seek to influence a colleague or team by using the name or authority of someone else, we are – in effect – discounting our own importance and worth. The same applies to the moment we accept this approach without debate
In 2014 then, I have decided to do my own translation service. ‘You should support this proposal because it has been endorsed by (insert senior leader or LT name here)’ can be translated to ‘I am not sure I can convince you that this is a good idea.’
And ‘I need to know who has reviewed and endorsed this approach’ can be translated as ‘I don’t really want to debate this proposal with you so I need to know if I just have to say yes rather than try to you change your mind’.
Part of me recognises that we sometimes use discount lines if we are expressing ideas that may go against the general trends and beliefs, or if we are in a situation where we feel anxious or nervous. And it is absolutely better that we get our input into any discussion than us not saying anything. But in most other cases, I still believe that us discounting our statement or positions in this way is detrimental.
Most everything we do is a matter of opinion. Research, by definition, involves the search for knowledge and as such, that search is full of options and ideas, each with their own pros and cons. Whenever we come across a situation where we have different ideas than others – whoever those ‘others’ may be  – we have to be prepared and able to debate those ideas. Yes we have to ensure debates don’t drag on too long; and yes we have to make decisions and act. But above all we have to own and to express opinions, be true to ourselves and be open to influence and input from others.
In truth, I wonder if the key to this is diversity. We need – and need to encourage – diversity of thought, and of idea and of input. None of us can know enough to be sure what we are saying or doing is right, or is even the best option.
More ideas and more input…more likelihood of success.


About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 10 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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2 Responses to Discount Lines…

  1. Another great post Steve. This reminds me of a paper we wrote back in 2011 entitled “Library enhancement through the wisdom of crowds.” (Hack MD, Rassokhin DN, Buyck C, Seierstad M, Skalkin A, ten Holte P, Jones TK, Mirzadegan T, Agrafiotis DK. Library enhancement through the wisdom of crowds. J. Chem. Inf. Model. 2011, 51, 3275–3286.) It described a novel approach that we took at J&J to enhance our chemical library with new compounds and chemotypes. Here’s an excerpt from the Concluding Remarks that resonate with the points you just raised:

    The library enhancement approach presented in this paper stemmed from a desire to tap into the collective wisdom and experience of our global medicinal chemistry community, and an even deeper organizational desire to decentralize decision making, empower our scientists, and give them ownership and accountability for the outcome. In designing this experiment, we took all necessary precautions to guard against factors that could lead to a poor collective decision, including: 1) homogeneity, by allowing input from multiple demographic groups with diverse backgrounds and experience; 2) centralization, by eliminating organizational and/or intellectual authority as a deciding factor; 3) division, by synthesizing input in a fair and unbiased way; 4) imitation, by ensuring that each person’s choices were invisible to others until all the votes were collected, thus preventing intentional or unintentional information cascade; and 5) emotion, by allowing scientists to cast their votes in private, thereby eliminating any form of peer pressure.

    Poor decisions arise when intellectual conformity replaces independence of thought, when the members of the community, for whatever reason, become too conscious of the opinions of others and begin to emulate them. Authority, organizational or intellectual, poses the greatest risk. Its influence can be subtle or direct, unintentional or deliberate. The subtle aspects were identified by Aristotle in his artistic proofs of persuasion: ethos, pathos, logos – the credibility of the speaker, his emotional or motivational appeal, and the logical grounding of his arguments. Although crowds can be swayed very easily by persuasive people, the main reason for intellectual conformity is that there is a systematic flaw in the system for making decisions.

    P.S. For some reason, I have the distinct impression that I have posted this comment before, but I can’t find any evidence. I think I am progressing from MCI to early AD…

    • Steve Street says:


      I am not sure i have seen this text before – i am sure i would have remembered it if i had. An execllent commentary on decisions and decision making in teams and communities. Really very helpful and insightful…and i love the reference to Aristotle!

      Cheers, and thank you for sharing.


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