Hierarchy vs Innovation

I have worked in two diametrically opposite work environments.

In firms like McKinsey, there was no social hierarchy. Even a senior partner could not overrule a junior analyst using the force of authority. Dissent was not a right, but an obligation – at least, that was the aspiration.

On the other hand, in the police service, from day 1, the emphasis was on unquestioning obedience. All the parades and drills were designed to train even your subconscious mind to follow orders – saying ‘no’ was virtually impossible.

In the army, the hierarchy is even more rigid. And arguably, these militaristic organizations deliver efficiently even in very adverse conditions.

So which is the right approach?

I think it depends on the goal. If your job is to uphold the status quo and act mechanically – obedience works.

But if you are looking to innovate and compete in the marketplace, you have to discard hierarchy. Else, in any debate, the highest rank wins, not the best idea.

In fact, even in uniformed services, hierarchy comes at a huge price – the more senior you are, the more you can abuse your power. And the top bosses, especially the politicians, can treat you like a tool.

If you are in the business of innovation, you need meritocracy, which can’t co-exist with social hierarchy.

We can either give or take orders. Or we can tap into the best ideas. But we can’t do both.

– Rajan

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