The Power of Acceptance

Do we worry too much about the quality of our decisions, and too little about creating widespread acceptance for them?
October 27, 2011

A few months ago I read and reviewed Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders, by Rajeev Peshawaria, who blogs for Forbes, is the CEO of the ICLIF Leadership & Governance Centre, and was formerly the Global Director of Leadership Development at American Express.

I was recently rereading a part of the book that talked about the quality of ideas and decisions in relation to their effectiveness. Rajeev maintains that, in business, we worry too much about the quality of our decisions, and too little about creating widespread acceptance for them. The reason I was so interested in rereading that section was because I experienced the phenomenon in working with a client.

What happens is that we tend to assume that if the quality of a decision or strategy is rock solid and undeniably rational, people should have no problem buying into it. Nothing is more powerful than science, math and logic, right? If the idea is scientifically sound and makes perfect sense, and there's data to back it up, no one should have a problem accepting it, right? Wrong.

We forget that no two people think exactly the same way, and what seems obvious to one person may be a complete head-scratcher to another. Rajeev has a simple, but very powerful, way to explain why we need to try more to create acceptance. "For an idea or strategy to be fully effective, it requires both quality and acceptance," he writes. He illustrates the concept with a simple equation:

Q x A = E

Q is quality, A is acceptance, and E is effectiveness.

What happens in business is that we tend to work tirelessly on Q and neglect A, or at least not put as much effort into it as Q. And in business, that can make the difference between success and failure. Great ideas that don't stick remain just that...great ideas.

It's a simple equation, but there's nothing simplistic about it. In fact, if you run the numbers, something surprising happens (which happens to be true of any multiplication equation): increasing the smaller of the two variables results in a greater product than increasing the larger one. "Imagine Q=7 and A=3, giving you an overall effectiveness of 21," writes Rajeev. "Most left-brained managers tend to continuously improve quality, and pay little attention to acceptance."

But watch what happens when you when you improve the quality of an idea while keeping acceptance low, versus improving low acceptance while leaving quality alone:

I recently did this little exercise in a workshop with 25 senior leaders of a paramilitary organization. The look of shock on their faces as they watched Effectiveness jump when Acceptance rose and Quality remained the same was priceless.

Rajeev jokes that you need a degree in advanced variable calculus to understand this deep and complex mathematical concept. "The key point is simple," he says. "As a leader, you should ask yourself if you have succeeded in creating widespread acceptance. It is harder than most people think."