The write up on John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, in the Sept 1, 2015 edition of Fortune Magazine quoted the leader as saying “I am absolutely a contrarian. You need dissonance, and you need someone who is challenging things. Otherwise you get stuck.” I was emboldened by his embrace of dissonance as it goes against what traditionally is thought of as alignment. It’s been my experience that there’s a confusion between where strategy leads and where operations and execution of the strategy takes off. In running companies, I see that having a strategic imperative like dissonance makes for good strategy—when you believe there are no sacred cows, you’re able to look underneath the hood and pick out the parts that aren’t running the best way possible. Think how Tesla became the highest rated car ever by Consumer Reports—It wasn’t because they decide to follow the leader and do things just as they’ve always been done, it was because their leadership forged their own path.
Inside organizations we have a daily struggle between the strategists who are continuing to ask the question “how can we make this?” or asking “how can we make this better?” while you have people in operations who just want to continue delivering the status quo to the customer because their job is to get it done. Incremental change towards improvement feels better to task driven deliverers. Upsetting that apple cart makes for strife. Being strategic about dissonance and change like John Mackey proves innovative—and you’ve got to have a tougher skin and a stronger spine to not be moved by the blowback from a constituency who doesn’t think like you do.