The Opposite Argument

A recent conversation with a corporate executive triggered this question. The person suggested that people at the grassroots didn’t know enough about the organisation’s strategy so the ideas they propose are a non-starter.  In the moment, I felt viscerally that the person lacked self-awareness yet had an oversized ego, had forgotten the two primary facets* of their job. I want to explore this person’s perspective, and build their argument for that statement.


    1. The organisation (the executive leadership specifically) is grappling with the changes in the marketplace. There are multiple dimensions to the problem. For fast response, a small group of highly qualified management professionals are working hard on understanding the problem.  People at the grassroots are unaware of these multi-dimensional problems. Therefore any ideas they have, while important to them, may not be relevant to the problem
    2. Good ideas do come from the grassroots, but they do not take an enterprise view of their implications. You need a much higher level perspective, and that awareness is only accessible to senior execs. It is impossible to convey these implications, so staff have to trust executive judgement on this.
    3. Being an executive who has deep history of the technical details, and the bird-eye view of the enterprise problem, I am aware of the problems that this idea will create for the rest of the system. Again, staff have to trust my judgement because I have got this right on multiple occasions previously. I don’t have the time to explain this at length to every person, and will exercise my decision-making authority.

Implicit: (Of course I can never know this for sure so entirely my assumptions)

    1. There’s no evidence that this idea is workable. The risk is way too much to accept.
    2. The evidence that is provided goes counter to my prior experience.
    3. If the idea works, it will make someone else look good
    4. If I have not objected to the idea in the first instance, and the idea fails, my credibility among my peers will be diminished
    5. This is not my idea
    6. This is your idea and I don’t like you/your higher-ups etc
    7. There are other ways this can be done
    8. Our competitors will use this to their advantage

Doing this exercise is illuminating – there are more implicit than explicit arguments that I can think of. If I asked the person how much of my list is valid, would I get an honest answer? Would the answer be different in a different circumstance?

* My current belief is that an exec needs to:  a. articulate the org strategy clearly so that the experts – the people actually doing the job – knew what they were aiming at; and b. use their hierarchical heft to negotiate the removal of obstacles in the path of the experts.