Why Did No One Speak Up When Making the Film Dolittle? Because It Really Sucked (January 2020)

Seth Godin talks about how come really bad films get made, despite loads of money, proven talent and great technology (https://seths.blog/2020/01/the-dolittle-effect/). This is all about the courage to speak out.

Lots of companies have values that talks about bravery or courage. Clearly courage can manifest in many ways. The courage to speak up and say “this sucks” when everyone else is appearing to like it, or simply not saying they don’t, is a common area where this is lived out. This is not a new concept. The Abilene Paradox was introduced by management expert Jerry B. Harvey in 1974. The article tells of a group who decide on a course of action that none of them wants to do but because no one mentions the ideas sucks each person mistakenly believes that their opinion is not what the group wants. The Abilene paradox is a desire not to “rock the boat”.

I’ll bet there were loads of people during the making of Dolittle that knew it sucked but said nothing. They may have told themselves the story that “I did speak out” but they’re probably kidding themselves. They may have said that in private, away from the main conversation. They may have given hints in the main meetings. But neither did the job of calling out the issue, at least not in a way that was heard, noticed and made people stop and think.

Much is written about leadership and that leadership is not based on seniority, authority, or supposed expertise. That’s right. Leadership is often manifest in someone going outside their comfort zone, outside their nominated authority and saying what they think. The idea that authority figures have a monopoly on the right answer or knowing when something is the wrong course of action is highly risky. History shows us that Generals, Presidents and CEOs all make monumental blunders.

We need to speak our truth, doing it in a way that is empathetic to other’s feelings – just saying “this sucks” will come across as aggressive – but strong enough to be heard and listened to. Speaking first shows courage. So, does speaking second and third, before the majority speaks. Once the tipping point is reached, you’re just following the herd.

Richard Wentworth Ping is CEO and owner of Wentworth People. With offices in Singapore and Australia and a network of consultants across Asia, they help clients handle change, build leaders and shape culture. Contact him on richard.wping@wentworthpeople.com or +61 425 262580 or visit the website www.wentworthpeople.com