Quintessence: Undiscussables

Quintessence: Undiscussables

A sample chapter excerpted from my new book “Quintessence“, available now on LeanPub (free sample also available).

Note: Each of the eighty-odd chapters in Part II of the book takes a specific meme, and describes the collective beliefs and assumptions that quintessential organisations hold in regard to the meme. By taking all the memes in toto, we can understand the way quintessential software development organisations see the world of work – and what makes them so effective. This particular sample meme is about undiscussibility.

Chapter 12. Undiscussables


Quintessential organisations regard open and free discussion as an essential element in both becoming and remaining highly effective. No topics are taboo or undiscussable. We can’t converge on a most likely hypothesis if there are some hypotheses that are undiscussable. It’s only in the crucible of ideas and debate that we can converge on a common understanding.

In the quintessential organisation, even though discussion of some topics may contribute to people feeling nervous, uncomfortable, or threatened, everyone realises the necessity to work through such feelings, support each other, and discuss these difficult topics, nevertheless. In fact, it’s the most difficult topics that are often those most worthy of discussion. 

Folks look out for topics that might be on the cusp of becoming undiscussable, and make a special effort to brings these particular topics up for discussion. Everyone is aware of the impact of taboo topics, and strives to keep the count of such topics at zero.

Quintessential organisations have zero tolerance of undiscussability.

What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust, effective social systems … The highest performing companies have extremely contentious boards that regard dissent as an obligation and that treat no subject as undiscussable.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

Further Reading

Schachter, H. (2019, November 9). It’s Finally Time to Discuss the Undiscussables of the Workplace. Controllers On Call. Retrieved June 1, 2021, from https://controllersoncall.ca/its-finally-time-to-discuss-the-undiscussables-of-the-workplace/

Noonan, W.R. (2007). Discussing the Undiscussable: A Guide to Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace. Jossey-Bass.

‌Sonnenfeld, J. (2002). What Makes Great Boards Great. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2002/09/what-makes-great-boards-great.

– Bob

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