Somewhen about 30 years ago, I listened to a guy say “We need more PLU’s on this board. We need employees that are PLU’s.” I didn’t know what a PLU was, so I asked, and got the simple explanation: “People Like Us.” I thought about it – and having a board filled with people like me would be really good if I had the correct, the perfect answer or proposal. My clones and I could put it in effect with minimal discussion and disagreement.
I can see where a board’s diversity of opinion, of expertise, may profit by having one Person Like Me on it. My experience and expertise include surveying (land, snow and polling), research, higher education, statistics, demography and agriculture. I have solid opinions on those topics – but I defer to others in a lot of other areas. A board that I’m on needs people who aren’t like me. Filling a board with PLU’s leads to groupthink. It gets worse with education – I recognize that a Ph.D. means specialized knowledge – but I’ve served on a bunch of committees filled with Ph.D. holders. Not sure it ever improved the diversity of thought or opinion..
One of the best job partners I ever had was a woman who couldn’t stand me. Politics, religion, science – we had nothing in common but a task to perform as efficiently and quickly as possible, ideally with the least exposure to each other possible. We did it, and went on to promotions in our separate ways. Don’t get me wrong – I disliked just about everything about her – but we accomplished more working together than either of us would have ever predicted. PLUs aren’t needed in a productive workplace – and hopefully I’ll get through the rest of my life without seeing her again.
There are times when a board needs team players. There are times when it needs gadflies. Thinking back to Nixon and Watergate, I remember one of the White House folks saying, “Nobody ever suggested that there wouldn’t be a coverup.” I don’t know how many years he served in prison – but the statement was one of the greatest examples of groupthink I’ve ever heard. A group of PLUs, never thinking of the question that should have been obvious.
I guess it’s simple – I’d rather work with dissension and diversity than risk groupthink from People Like Us.