Intellectual Bravery

New Idea Stocks

I was struck by this recent observation from Timothy Clark in his HBR article on cultivating “Intellectual Bravery”:

“Intellectual bravery is a willingness to disagree, dissent, or challenge the status quo in a setting of social risk in which you could be embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way. When intellectual bravery disappears, organizations develop patterns of willful blindness. Bureaucracy buries boldness. Efficiency crushes creativity. From there, the status quo calcifies and stagnation sets in.

“The responsibility for creating a culture of intellectual bravery lies in leadership. As a leader, you set the tone, create the vibe, and define the prevailing norms. Whether or not your company has a culture of intellectual bravery depends on your ability to establish a pattern of rewarded rather than punished vulnerability.”

You can tell a lot about an organization by what gets punished and what gets rewarded.  Stanford professor Bob Sutton famously observed twenty years ago that many organizations follow an unspoken motto to “reward success and inaction, punish failure.”

He advised instead to “reward success and failure, punish inaction.”