Monday, May 3, 2010


Many of today’s students of the future nonetheless start from the assumption that an effective response to the challenges facing industrial society requires reaching consensus around some plan of action and then carrying it out.  The raw uncertainties of the future ahead of us, though, make this a dubious proposition.  Even if some common denominator of agreement could be found among competing views of the future, it could at most cover a small fraction of the possible options, and there is no way of knowing whether those particular options are in fact the best possibilities to explore.  A quest for consensus thus risks narrowing the options at a time when the range of potential choices needs to be as broad as possible.

This is where a different approach, dissensus, comes into play.  Dissensus, a concept coined by postmodern theorist Ewa Ziarek, is the deliberate avoidance of consensus.  It has its place when consensus, for one reason or another, is either impossible or unwise (…).  In situations of these kinds, encouraging people to pursue conflicting and even diametrically opposed options increases the chance that someone will happen on an answer that works. 

John Michael Greer, THE ECOTECHNIC FUTURE, Pages 95-96.

At first glance, John Michael Greer’s concept of dissensus seems to be diametric to my initial belief about leadership – that consensus should be the goal.  After letting the idea sink in, I think I like it.  Too often, we settle for outcomes in order to achieve consensus so that we can say we accomplished something, so we can move on.  In the end, we may be in agreement, but more often the not what we are in agreement with is that we don’t really like what we have agreed to.  Holding on to our dissent, can be difficult when it seems that everyone around us agrees to go along with the crowd, but getting out of the herd mentality is exactly what we need in the world today.  So go out and practice dissensus, nurture creativity, and keep our options for the future open.

In addition, if you are looking for more challenges to many of our common assumptions about how we should be moving into the future, you might want to spend some time with John Michael Greer’s book THE ECOTECHNIC FUTURE.    His blog The Arch Druid Report is also worth checking out.  


  1. Tom,
    I'm glad to see that you're still blogging. I like the "ecological" title, both as a way of approaching leadership, and as a way of pointing to the main global challenge that we need leadership to address. I'm also appreciating the "consensus" and "dissensus" discussion.
    One thing that I'd be interested in hearing more about is your own leadership experience. How are you living out the ideas you are writing about in particular organizations and relationships?

  2. Michael,

    You pose a big question and a big challenge - How am I living up to the ideas I write about? Unfortunately more often then not, not too well. It is much easier to talk the talk, then to walk the walk. But I will take your challenge to heart and try and do a better job of walking the walk before I talk. Thanks, Tom