Well into the 1980s, decisions at The Walt Disney Company were driven by what people thought Walt wanted. I used to think the company was living in the past and this was an awful way to make decisions. Now I’ve come to realize the company was living in the past (Walt died in 1966), but this was and continues to be a particularly good way to make decisions.
If you and I have different points of view about the right course of action, you can decide, I can decide, or we can let someone else decide. If one of us decides, the other loses. If we compromise, we both lose. But if we let someone else decide, we’re both interpreting and implementing and can both win – if we feel good about that “someone else”.
Asking “What does Walt want?” was a way to reconnect with the founder’s intent. Of course people weren’t trying to contact Walt and let him make decisions from beyond the grave. They were, however, using that question as a framework to help them remain true to the things that Walt thought were most important.
Who’s in charge of a string quartet? The composer, communicating through the music.
Who made the final decisions at Procter & Gamble when A.G. Lafley was CEO? The consumer, communicating through strategies and creative briefs.
Net, instead of arguing about something, it’s better to kick the decision to a higher authority: the music, core values, principles, the brief, the strategy. This way, instead of trying to prove each other wrong, we can work together to agree on how to interpret something else. This is particularly important when onboarding into a new role since it’s more important to build relationships than to be right.