In today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving professional landscape, blindly following orders and conforming to organisational norms can be counterproductive. As human beings, we possess the ability to think critically and exercise our professional judgment. It is crucial to prioritise loyalty to our profession over blind obedience to our current employer. I will explore the concept of professional friction and its significance in fostering innovation, preventing disasters, and maintaining quality assurance within organisations.
The Power of Professional Friction
Mindless obedience may seem convenient, but it suppresses our human capabilities and reduces us to mere robotic entities. We now have actual robots that can perform repetitive tasks efficiently, leaving humans free to harness their intellect and creativity. It is imperative for organisations to recognise and harness these unique human qualities.
Professional friction refers to the healthy tension and constructive resistance that professionals can bring to the table when they perceive a misguided direction or potential dangers within their organisations. It is an essential element in driving innovation, maintaining ethical standards, and avoiding catastrophic mistakes.
An Eye-Opening Historical Example
The pivotal role of professional friction becomes evident when we examine history. In both the United States and the Soviet military during the Cold War, the presence of professional friction prevented a potential nuclear war. Imagine the scenario where the systems signalled an imminent attack, and orders were given to launch missiles. However, thanks to professionals, even those in lower ranks, who sensed something was amiss, they courageously refused to obey. Their dissenting voices prevented a catastrophic event that could have had irreversible consequences.
The Andon Cord: A Symbol of Empowered Professionals
Toyota, a renowned global organisation, emphasises the concept of the “andon cord” to illustrate the importance of professional judgment. The andon cord represents the right and duty of employees to halt operations when they recognise that things are not going well according to their professional assessment. This mechanism fosters a culture of quality assurance and ensures that potential issues are identified and addressed promptly.
Creating Space for Professional Friction – Psychological Safety
Embracing professional friction requires a mature and enlightened leadership approach. Leaders must create a safe space where employees feel empowered to voice their concerns and dissent without fear of retribution. By actively seeking diverse perspectives and encouraging constructive criticism, organisations can tap into the collective intelligence and expertise of their workforce. This inclusive environment fosters innovation, encourages accountability, and ultimately drives organisational success.
In a world where automation and artificial intelligence continue to transform industries, it is crucial to recognise and leverage the unique qualities that make us human. Professional friction, when embraced within organisations, acts as a catalyst for progress, preventing disasters, and upholding quality standards. By prioritising loyalty to our profession and valuing critical thinking, we can pave the way for a more resilient, innovative, and successful future. Let us foster a culture that celebrates professional friction, and in doing so, unleash the true potential of human intelligence.