Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Inquiry as Strategy - Drawing in the Opposition

In the April issue of McKinsey Quarterly is a great article on the benefits of inclusion. (The McKinsey Quarterly: Controversy Incorporated: "Learn to work with not around stakeholders"). It points to a common strategy of essentially trying to buy off opposition with "gifts and grand gestures" and compares that to understanding opposition as a source of information for progressive and mutually productive strategies.
The article gives a couple of opposites as examples:
Cargill's initial entry into the market for sunflower seeds in India. Starting in the early 1990s, this activity generated bitter political opposition, and Cargill offices in that country were set on fire twice. The company's response was to teach Indian farmers how to improve their crop yields. As a result, the productivity of the local farmers increased by more than 50 percent. Once Cargill had provided them with a palpable economic benefit, they understood that the company aspired to be their partner rather than their exploiter.

Monsanto's effort to create markets for genetically modified seeds. The company was bitterly opposed by farmers in developing countries who feared becoming dependent on a single supplier of expensive seed. Instead of accommodating these concerns, Monsanto responded with an effort to publicize scientific evidence about the benefits of genetically modified seeds, but few of the farmers believed that the scientists supporting the company's claims were truly independent. Arguably, Monsanto lost the opportunity by pressing its claim too hard too. Buffeted by a steady backlash in developing and developed markets alike, the company lost almost half of its market capitalization in the year to September 1999, and a few months later it was acquired.
The Monsanto approach to resistance is common and assumes that "if you just know more you will agree with me" and "it's your lack of information (and understanding) that is causing you to resist". In contrast, the Cargill response strategy was "seek first to understand (Covey)" and deliver a win/win relationship-building solution.

It's interesting to see how a priority on learning, rather than a focus on winning, results in more wins all round. Instead of " how can we get what we want?" maybe a more productive question is "how can we find out what it is that we need to know?" And for a truly successful outcome, throw out the deficit thinking and incorporate a genuine spirit of abundance. There is enough for all when we work together and care about each other's success.


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