A new process (or tool, or role) gets introduced and it has been getting nothing but positive feedback. Almost everyone is sending in their feedback citing how helpful it is, that it is quite good, and how it could be the key to them becoming absolutely more productive. That’s all nice and dandy. But then again, the feedback is being coursed through one of the most intimidating managers in the company’s known history. Could this be a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes?
In the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, a hedonistic emperor got duped by a couple of con men pretending to be tailors. They made him a suit out of a material they claimed to be invisible to anyone who’s stupid or unfit for office. Out of fear of being misjudged, the emperor and his ministers pretended to see the fabric and they all raved about the emperor’s new “clothes”. Proud of his new outfit, the emperor went on a procession across town. The townspeople were gobsmacked at the sight of the naked emperor yet no one had the guts to speak out until a young boy cried out, “But he’s got nothing on!” A murmur spread across the crowd and they came to admit that the child was indeed saying the truth. The stubborn emperor, on the other hand, refused to admit his shame and continued with his procession.
At work, safety often takes precedence over candor. We refrain from raising questions that would contest (or even sound like it would contest) our superiors. We refrain from speaking our mind when we have ideas that don’t exactly conform to the ideas of others. We refrain from confrontation even though we think what the other person is saying is pure BS. At worse, we become mindless yes-men. All for the sake of safety. Ironically, this affinity towards this kind of safety is somewhat dangerous. At worst, we risk propagating a bad idea and letting it wreak havoc into our projects. And at the very least, we fail at what we were expected to do i.e., give honest feedback.