Lessons From the Tank
by Joe Altieri
November 18th, 2022

The Question that Saved My Business

Dissent. Disagreement. Division. Divisiveness. Dog and pony show. Dereliction of Duty. Demonization. (Why do they all start with D?)

Raise your hand if you’re sick of hearing those terms repeatedly in the news – ad nauseam around election cycles. And most of them are wrong or harmful all of the time. But one of them gets a bad rap: Disagreement (which could also be called “debate”). Not only is it helpful in business – it’s necessary.

In fact, I pay people to disagree with me.

Here’s how it works; in a meeting where everyone is given the same information and comes to the same conclusion, one person is required to play the devil’s advocate. That person is now responsible for disproving all the others. So no matter how many people are in the room, one will be chosen to give their best dissenting opinion to the consensus.

You may think you don’t have time for something like this. If everyone agrees, all the better – why not wrap the meeting up and move on? Because some of the best decisions ever made for my business (and a few that may have saved it altogether) resulted from asking, “What do you think?” and getting answers that I wouldn’t have thought of or necessarily even agreed with at the time.

When I took my flexible window screen on Shark Tank, several of the Sharks had strong opinions about the best path forward for my business. Kevin O’Leary believed I should just license the technology to window manufacturers and be done with it. Knowing that our technology was far too expensive and complicated at the time to do that, I pushed back on the idea – but I didn’t dismiss it altogether. It got the wheels turning, and I began thinking about how we could simplify our technology to make it possible. Years later, with the help of a premier automation company, we are rolling out an automated window screen line that requires a fraction of the space and workforce and cuts production times in half. The licensing option is a reality now, and the long-term benefits to my business are almost incalculable.

So how open are you to feedback, pushback, and disagreement? It’s a question worth contemplating for a lot of reasons. Allowing for and even encouraging debate in your organization builds trust, increases morale, and raises productivity because it speaks volumes about the value you place on your people and your confidence in them.

Insecure leaders require lockstep loyalty. Wise leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter than them, and then they listen. I would rather deal with the temporary discomfort of healthy tension than lead a team of yes-people. But that’s just me.

What do you think?

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