Encourage Dissent!

Encourage Dissent

Diverse thinking is one of the things I value the most. I want to hear all kinds of different ideas from all different sources. I don’t want other people to just echo back what I said, I want people to challenge me. And I don’t want everybody around me to think the exact same way.

I always like to look at problems from multiple angles, and that’s not just in business. When I’m following the political news of the day, I want to hear what both liberals and conservatives have to say. On the market, I want to hear from both the bears and the bulls. I want to hear from people who think we should go one way, and also from people who say we should do the exact opposite.

Hearing a wide range of ideas helps to clarify my own thinking. I of course have my own initial ideas on a subject, but the way I test and improve (and, yes, change) them is by listening and learning from others.

Sometimes I might not change my mind, but hearing the other side gives me more confidence because I’ve seen the other angle and thought about overcoming the obstacles. Or it could be that I have the wrong idea, because there was something I didn’t even think of. By listening to someone who did think of it, I discover the blind spot in my thinking and I can adjust accordingly. No matter whether I change my opinion or not, hearing more information helps me.

In his book Originals, Adam Grant included a chapter about how to avoid groupthink, and the most important part of that was having truly diverse thinking in the organization. “Dissenting opinions are useful even when they’re wrong,” he wrote. Just by virtue of offering up alternatives, dissenters get people to look closer at their own ideas and think more about what the right thing to do is, rather than just going along with the initial gut instinct.

And it’s not enough to just tell people to disagree for the sake of disagreeing. Assigned devil’s advocates don’t work, according to many research studies. People respond to genuine opinions, truly held beliefs, not a weakly, disingenuously offered, “Um, what about this?”

“The secret to success is sincerity,” Adam writes. “Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made. In fact, it’s not easy to fake sincerity. For devil’s advocates to be maximally effective, they need to really believe in the position they’re representing—and the group needs to believe that they believe it, too.” The study found that groups with authentic dissenters—true diversity of thought—generated substantially more ideas, and objectively better solutions to problems.

I love it when somebody disagrees with me. I love it when people come up with a lot of ideas—even if I disagree with them and we end up doing something else. No one should be afraid of sharing an idea. People who have the creativity to come up with new solutions and the confidence to share them, even when they know other people don’t agree, is what every leader needs to become better.

Diverse thinking is one of the fundamentals of long-term success. Encourage the people around you to share their thinking no matter what, with no fear of punishment, and seek out diverse opinions. The more you learn, the better your own ideas and decisions will be.

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Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of GoSmallBiz.com and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as GoSmallBiz.com, SmallBizClub.com, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.