The Emperor’s New Clothes


Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.

— John Wooden

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Do you remember the children’s tale by Hans Christian Andersen called the Emperor’s New Clothes? This classic 1837 story tells the tale of 2 tailors who convince the emperor to commission a beautiful suit. The suit, as they describe it, is the epitome of beauty and luxury, yet is invisible to anyone considered stupid or unfit for their position.

As the emperor models the new garments for his court, no one is willing to tell him he’s prancing around naked for fear of being considered stupid. It is ultimately a laughing child who exposes the truth.

Believe it or not, I frequently observe chief executives walking around in the Emperor’s New Clothes, with a team of yes men executives surrounding them telling them how posh they look! The old command and demand style of leadership, in which everyone just tries their best to anticipate and agree with the leader’s opinions, is no longer valid. It suppresses exploration and innovation, resulting in a lot of bad and poorly-vetted decisions.

A great CEO is one who will surround him or herself with a leadership team made up of smart, diverse people of varying backgrounds and opinions, who encourages them to challenge the status-quo, engage in healthy conflict and freely explore ideas. Research has found that this method of group-discussion-based decision making statistically results in better decisions.

Culture Building Tip

Watch this TED Talk as neuroscientist Mariano Sigman and his colleague Dan Ariely share some intriguing results derived from their research around the world into how we interact to reach decisions.

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do: we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

— Steve Jobs

That’s our spark, what’s yours?