I have had several reasons to think about confrontation of late. Let me put that in context: events, conversations and responses to them have reminded that much of my work has been disruptive. In that it has been intended to create change, which most people really do not wish for, then it is bound to be so.
What, then, are the parameters on disruption? I ask the question for two reasons.
One is Chilcot: Blair has been criticised for his 'sofa style' of governing where the risk of robust challenge was eliminated. What that makes clear is that disruptive thinking is not only useful but can be essential to proper processes, even if it is very rarely well received and as a result happens far too often.
That in turn reminded me of how often I have been told that if only I was more amenable I would get on so much better. Maybe that is true in the terms of the person offering the comment but I have always suspected that those offering it have both high regard for the status quo and have never tried to change much. As a consequence I have always, and quite happily, rejected the advice.
Saying that I do not undeestimate the value of agreement. But equally I caution against a too ready acceptance of it, at least in the early stages of decision making. The culture of 'team playing' can be and is, in my opinion, over valued when decision making on serious issues is required.
I would argue that any successful organisation, process and change has to make space for, and be willing to listen to the contrarian, disruptive, view. What is more it has, in the process, to embrace the sometimes abrasive way of the contrarian, whose position may make everyone (themselves included) uncomfortable but whose role is necessary if real change is to be created. Getting heard when challenging ingrained perception is hard. Rocking the boat can be the way to do it.
We would have all been better off if those who tried to dislodge Tony Blair's certainties on Iraq had succeeded. Robin Cook and John Denham had to resign to try to do that. It would have been so much better if they had been listened to. Being difficult can be tough, and certainly isolating. But suppose they had succeeded with their contrarian views when what Blair did was try to reinforce the ingrained acceptance of the 'special relationship'?
I am inevitably reminded of the George Bernard Shaw quote:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
I do, of course, realise the language is now out of date; the sentiment remains true.
We paid a very high price for Blair's reasonableness to Bush.