05 November, 2010

On Consensus

ICANN prides itself on being a consensus-based organization.  In the spirit of fairness, here's an opposing viewpoint authored by Geoffrey James:

Stupid Fad #4:  Management by Consensus

  • Created by: Plato
  • The theory: Important decisions should be made with the agreement of everybody in the group.  Proposals are  collaboratively developed, and full agreement is a primary objective.  Consensus management is usually seen as an alternative to “top-down” decision making common inside hierarchical organizations.
  • The reality: Since everybody has a say in the decision, anybody can effectively veto any decision.  As a result, only decisions that are completely innocuous and support the status quo are ever made.  Difficult decisions — ones that might ruffle feathers — get quietly shunted aside.
  • The result: Forget the wisdom of crowds.  Crowds are so stupid they can’t even figure out what the crowd is thinking. Specifically, consensus decision-making often results in what’s called “the Abilene paradox,” where a group will unanimously agree on a course of action that no individual member of the group desires because no one is willing to go against the perceived will of the group.

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