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We can all agree that consensus is dumb

Geez, how can anyone be against consensus? Well, I am. And I think that if you listen to what I have to say, I can get all of you to reach consensus that it’s a bad idea, too. I like being a team player, but not on a losing team. Praying to the god of consensus decision-making is one way to lose. And the larger the organization that tries to reach consensus, the more destined they are to lose in the game of Internet marketing.

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Consenus.

So why am I so down on consensus? Because it is the slowest possible way to reach a conclusion, and the Internet is built for speed. Decisions delayed mean opportunities that you never get back. Those customers moved on, while you were dilly-dallying. (I’m not sure what dilly-dallying is, exactly, but trust me, it’s bad.)
Think of your Web site the way airlines think about their plane flights. They change the price of a ticket countless times to extract the highest profit from each seat, and they make those decisions quickly (with a computer), because any seat unfilled is profit lost the moment that flight takes off.
Internet marketing is no different. At every moment, customers are deciding what to buy and whom to buy from. If you aren’t bidding on a paid search keyword, or you’ve got the wrong copy on your landing page, or you don’t clearly explain how the customer moves offline to buy from you, you lose. And every minute you fail to change that stuff, because you are still working through persuading the last few folks of that decision–those are customers that you’ll never get back. Those flights have taken off.
When I wrote the book Do It Wrong Quickly, I chose the title quite carefully. I mean, the quickly part is kind of important—if you leave it out, then you’re just doing it wrong. And consensus decision-making virtually ensures that you’ll leave out the “quickly” part.
The very nature of consensus building is a slow process. People come to issues with so many different perspectives and experiences that they virtually never agree on the same course of action at first. So, getting them all to agree, by its nature, means that you are making decisions very slowly. And the more people that need to agree, the slower it goes.
But it’s actually worse than that, because it’s highly likely that you’ll never reach consensus. (And the more people involved, the more likely it’s so.) How many decisions have you seen postponed endlessly because a few (perhaps even one) powers-that-be don’t agree. Or aren’t “ready” yet? Or have a “few more questions”?
So as bad as it is to leave out the quickly part of “do it wrong quickly,” consensus often leaves out the “do it” part, too, as decisions never get made. And then, what you’re left with from “do it wrong quickly” is just “wrong.”
If you’re still bowing to the god of consensus decision-making, that’s just wrong.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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Discussion

  1. Avatar Keith Instone

    Hi Mike. This posting caused me to think about Stewart Brand’s Pace Layering model, where some things change fast (like fashion) and some things change slower (like infrastructure) and some things change very slowly (nature).
    Here is a single diagram that summarizes it. A search for “stewart brand pace layering” yields some more good material, but I could not find a decent single resource to link to in 5 minutes of searching. Stewart’s wikipedia page does not mention it, I may have to fix that some day.
    So, does consensus decision making have more of a role at deeper layers? Or maybe only in the middle layers (fashion at the top and nature at the bottom do not use it, obviously). Or maybe that is what is wrong with the middle layers: when they use consensus decision making, they fail us.
    Anyway, another great post. I think if you could talk about consensus in terms of the pace layering model next, you could really nail it for me.

  2. Avatar Mike Moran

    Gee, Keith, I think I need to stick to Internet marketing. 🙂
    I think consensus can work well for things that you want to change slowly (a national constitution or a history book). I think that some company cultures choose consensus because the social penalty for error is so high. If we want to succeed at Internet marketing, we need to make experiments something that we don’t have to be embarrassed about if we are to make progress.

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