Sometimes, families even get into the conversation
and oppose the well-intended change. Social media
offers the perfect outlet for parents to band together
and publicly oppose a new effort, garnering support
from other families. The mutiny gains momentum.
Disparaging comments and discussions online
(easily seen by anyone) can become a source of
embarrassment for leaders, who feel they have failed.
In the most heated situations, school boards become
involved. Thus, a promising effort can be thwarted
before it ever gets off the ground. The once-enthusi-astic change agents retreat in defeat, wondering what
The Case for “Disagree and Commit”
What can teacher leaders and administrators do to
prevent this kind of creeping rebellion from taking
down potentially effective initiatives? There are
many points at which an attempt at change can go
wrong. After all, leadership and the change process
are complex. In this article, I want to address just
one point—how to prevent a mutiny from undermining a change effort. In doing so, I’ll draw on
lessons from the field of business, in particular from
tech giants Intel and Amazon.
In Praise of Skepticism
As educators, we want our students to be critical
thinkers—to question and show skepticism. We
teach them to cite data to support their opinions
and to test theories and hypotheses for evidence that
supports a claim. But when it’s time to implement
school change, we often don’t appreciate these same
qualities in our colleagues. Wouldn’t it be better
if all teachers just followed suit, never offered any
criticism, and made the job of the leaders easier?
Actually, if our fellow teachers are questioning our
How It Works at Intel and Amazon
ideas and making change efforts difficult, someone
along the way has done an excellent job of promoting
critical thinking and skepticism in those teachers. But
how do we both value constructive critique and move
an initiative forward at a pace that leads to implemen-
tation in less than a decade? The key may lie in what
Intel calls “disagree and commit.”
At Intel and Amazon, when a new idea is on the
floor for consideration, employees are invited to
share their opinions, including their concerns. Disagreement at this early development stage is considered healthy and helpful to the process (Heath &
Heath, 2010). After all, having many people engage
and bring forward their individual ideas about a
project can lead to significant improvement. An
important part of Intel’s culture is that all concerns
and disagreements are brought forward publicly.
Agreeing in the meeting but then disagreeing privately within small groups is unhealthy—a breeding
ground for mutiny.
At some point, the newly proposed idea takes
shape, and it becomes clear that the group behind it
or the leadership is moving in a particular direction.
At this point, Intel employees are encouraged to
agree or disagree with that decision, but to commit
to implementation. Often a person in the meeting
will raise his or her hand and say, “I disagree, but
commit.” Others follow suit until there is universal
commitment. Once the decision has been made to
implement an idea, everyone recognizes the importance of getting behind that idea and doing their part
to make it as successful as possible.
Fuel for Data-based Decision Making
Why might the disagree-and-commit approach
be healthier than continuing to debate until there
is universal agreement before implementation?
Shouldn’t a school wait to move forward until it has
buy-in from everyone? Or at least a critical mass of
In part, yes. We can’t push an initiative forward
without some level of agreement. But this doesn’t
mean we need everyone’s agreement that the initiative is the best idea. What we are asking faculty
to do, once a direction is determined, is to give it
their best, to implement the initiative with their full
Agreement and commitment to implement aren’t
the same thing. Jeffrey Bezos (2016), founder and
CEO of Amazon, suggests the wording, “Look, I
know we disagree on this, but will you gamble with
me on it? Disagree and commit?” He argues that
without trying the new idea, no one really knows for
certain whether it will work.
As buzz generates about the
new practice, some degree of
mutiny begins to form, and the
bubble of enthusiasm bursts.