3 Ways To Create Consensus For Innovation

Innovation is a team exercise where consensus is key


The world today is possibly the most polarized it has ever been. When we look at some of the leading nations in the world, such as the UK and the US, they are very divided nations. They are divided along some very fundamental lines, whether that’s ideas towards immigration, terrorism, taxes, or even sports teams.

In this kind of environment consensus is almost impossible, and it has seen even the most powerful people in the world retreat to their respective trenches. For instance, when it comes to supreme court appointments in Congress, the heavily conservative Antonin Scalia was confirmed 98-0 by the Senate in 1986, and the heavily liberal Ruth Bader Ginsberg by 96-3 in 1993. Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s pick for the supreme court slithered over the line and Mitch McConnell was even forced to change the rules to pass it by 54-45. This has had devastating impacts, with common sense and fact being thrown out of the window in order to toe party lines, with the current Senate Healthcare Bill being a prime example. It is shown by the CBO score that it will kick 22 million off healthcare and will almost certainly lose the house and senate majorities for the Republicans in 2018, but because of entrenchment it has a very real chance of passing.

Consensus agreements are so far away from even being remotely possible today, that it is possible to think that it could never happen again. However, consensus isn’t simply about politics, it is also vital to innovation too. Polarization and confirmation bias aren’t just things that happen in political rhetoric, they happen in every office too. So, we look at five ways to create consensus to improve innovation productivity.


The business world now turns because of data. Every company wants to be known as data-driven and the reason for it is simple: better data makes for better decisions.

One of the key ways of gaining consensus on decisions within any kind of innovation practice is going to be through looking at the data that you have around the same subject. If somebody thinks that a product should be red rather than blue, sales data from previous products or similar products can help make that decision. If historical data can show a clear trend then it makes it considerably easier to make a consensus decision. Gut feeling needs to be completely taken out of the equation and data-focussed thinking needs to be at the core of any decision made.

A prime example of data showing that assumptions and gut feelings can be wrong was shown in Oregon, where they had a lottery to choose who would have access to Medicaid and who wouldn’t. It was naturally assumed that those who received Medicaid would therefore visit emergency rooms less frequently than those who did not have it because they have other ways of getting medical attention through their new medical insurance. However, in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Effect of Medicaid Coverage on ED Use, found that there was actually a 40% increase in emergency room use amongst those with Medicaid.

Gut feeling alone would have predicted that there would be a significant decrease in this number, but through data it was easier to create a consensus and make decisions based on what was actually happening.


This next point may sound a little obvious, but is one that is frequently overlooked or even completely forgotten in the heat of the moment.

When people have a specific mindset, trying to persuade them otherwise can often become frustrating, and when people are frustrated they are more likely to lash out. When people react emotively while trying to work together, the effects can be incredibly damaging and, even if it happens once, it can have huge ramifications for creating consensus when working together.

It is vital for the entire team to be kind and act with compassion towards one another to foster a sense of collaboration and mutual appreciation.

This can be comparable to a conversation on Twitter about an emotive subject. Most of the time they descend into farce, name calling, and further entrenchment because, rather than sharing ideas constructively, they are done emotively. When attempts are made to curb this, the internet can actually be useful in fostering collaboration, with the SubReddit ‘Change My View’ working to change this dynamic by addressing these same issues in a respectful and constructive manner through a small number of simple rules. Instead of creating animosity it has created a community of close to 350,000 people all trying to work together to build a consensus. It has been so successful that it has even had academic studies written about it.

Purpose and Drive

One of the most sure fire ways of creating consensus amongst a team is through making sure that everybody has fully bought into the idea of the project. When everybody knows that they are working towards a common goal and trusts that everybody around them wants the same outcomes, creating consensus is considerably easier. This way, even though there may be slight disagreements on how to get there, it will always be clear that everybody is attempting to get to the same place.

When this happens, building consensus, using data, and having compassion for others becomes considerably easier, because you all know that you have a similar mindset. It is one of the reasons why political discussion doesn’t currently work, because people don’t believe that their opposition ultimately have the same goals. Through creating this foundation of a mutual goal trust is built and there is understanding that every decision made is one that will be working towards a shared target. 

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