Business executive and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan writes in her book Beyond Measure
that information wants to be different: “If everyone brings the same knowledge, then why have five people in the room when you could just have one?”
As Heffernan points out, unanimity is a sign that participation isn’t wholehearted.
You can have more effective discussions and reach better decisions by seeking out disconfirming information and perspectives.
One way to do this is to ask: What would you see if you were wrong?
Heffernan tells the story of Herb Meyer, who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and used this approach to become one of the first people in the world to accurately predict the fall of the Soviet Union.
Meyer was responsible for producing the US National Intelligence Estimate, but he grew increasingly uncomfortable with the information he received because it only confirmed the prevailing wisdom: that the Cold War was still going strong, and that the Soviet Union was as powerful as ever.
Meyer then made a list of all the things that might happen if the prevailing wisdom were wrong and the Soviet Union was actually collapsing, and sent it to the spy networks.
It was a low-cost experiment: if they saw nothing, then the prevailing wisdom was accurate.
But one of the first data points that came back was news of weekly meat train that had been hijacked, with all of the meat stolen. The Soviet army had been contacted, but the country’s ruling party told the army to fall back and not tell anyone.
This is how Meyer himself recounted the events: “Well, that’s not what happens when everything in the economy’s just fine, is it? … So that started to tell us something. And then there was more like that.”