Why ‘Obvious’ Must Be Up For Debate



Beware the manager who says, ‘… but it’s obvious’; and understand why they are saying it.

When a manager tells you something is obvious, they don’t mean that it is incontrovertible; far from it. It usually means they are unwilling to have it questioned.

This is because the obvious may not be self-evident, not even apparent to oneself. Rather it is what a manager wants everyone else to accept as evident without further discussion. I once had a manager who, when I put a view forward regarding an issue told me in no uncertain terms that he “…. didn’t want to hear the case for the defence”.

I have always thought that there are two reasons as to why mangers say that such and such is obvious an not open to debate:

  • The first is because to them it is obvious and therefore they are in no doubt regarding its validity; the matter is not open for discussion. They believe it. From my perspective if this is the case then they should be held to account; i.e. they need to share the reasons behind their belief.
  • The second is a little more disturbing. Obvious becomes a tool to stop colleagues questioning them and to put the views of others down. ‘Obvious’ in this context does not mean ‘apparent’, but ‘resistant to doubt’. Beware this ‘obvious’ because it is an antidote to curiosity – which negates creativity!

This second obvious is in reality, a warning – it is a brave individual that questions what they are told ‘is obvious’. In my estimation that which is seemingly obvious is often wrong; but this in itself is seldom obvious. Think about Copernicus and his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium which flew in the face of received wisdom at the time and contradicted the teachings of the church. In fact I would go as far as saying, there are few things in life more intellectually stimulating or rewarding than questioning the so called ‘obvious’.

Questioning of the obvious is what smart people do – regularly. If people didn’t question things how would progress be made? Evaluation of the norm, is what makes bad organisations good and good organisations outstanding.

“Unlocking Value through Collaboration” is of course the theme for the 5th Annual PASA Premier ConfeX on 11th & 12th October 2017 at Crown Promenade Melbourne. The programme is packed with case studies and practical advice on how to work more collaboratively. Check out the programme here.



Follow Gerard on Twitter @GerardChick. He recently won a prestigious procurement and supply management literary award, Les Plumes des Achats Grand Prix ACA Bruel 2015, for his book, Procurement’s Value Proposition: The Rise of Supply Management, which was co-written with Dr Robert Handfield.

Available from Kogan Page: http://www.koganpage.com/product/the-procurement-value-proposition-9780749471194. Enter this discount code and receive 20% off with a special PASA offer: PASA2016

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