TIL2017 – Argue

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

This post is part of the TIL2017 Summary Series.

As we saw in the Rory Week posts, presentation matters. Which is why we say to “argue well” rather than “avoid yes men.” Arguing well is doing, not avoiding. Here’s how people suggested it this year.

Matt Wallaert said he likes to return to Oregon because it’s the kind of place where you can argue with someone but still break bread – or in the Pacific Northwest case, drink beer. Good arguments don’t have baggage.

Charles Koch said they try to do this at his companies too. Remember, Koch said, the boss knows some things and the employees know other things. Both sets include important variables.

Within Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots, an argument is rewarded. It isn’t disagreeing for its own sake but having an opinion. Jamie Dimon said he’ll cancel meetings if people don’t do the work required for having an opinion ahead of time. Good arguments, conversations, and meetings are all preceded by preparation.

It’s his name that’s the brand, but Ken Burns encourages disagreement too. Even his interns can voice contrary opinions if they are developed and related to the subject at hand.

At Bridgewater Ray Dalio calls this “thoughtful disagreement.” Dalio believes in it so much that he’s built tools for people to share how they disagree and their domain accuracy. If someone is known for having accurate intuitions about an area their arguments are granted more weight.

Adam Grant said much the same thing in his interview with Shane Parrish. Aim for friendly competition said Grant, where you try to make each other better. This kind of environment requires giving rather than taking norms, explained Grant in the podcast and elaborated in his book.

Leaders have to create the environment for this. Gregg Popovich models it by disagreeing with his boss, General Manager RC Buford and encouraging it from the people under him. Other GMs have said that this is the kind of thing you should look for in hiring. Find people who can argue well.

This isn’t easy said John Montgomery. Often we want to hire people we like. Those people look like us, think like us, and talk like us. Agreement is comfortable, but as the adage goes; if we’re all thinking the same no one is thinking.

Disagree and be ready for discomfort. This surprised Dan Egan. Good arguments chip away at our beliefs about the world.

The archetype of argument might be Dwight Eisenhower who kept his inner circle running in circles. Ike never tipped his hand, especially in cards, about what he was thinking. Instead, he egged on one point of view in a morning meeting and took the other side in the afternoon. The Presidency may have been a demotion from Supreme Allied Commander, but Ike knew his subordinates were more likely to bend at the knee than stand up in opposition.

Good arguments aren’t off the cuff. They’re more like deep, heart-of-the-mater problems that matter. Too many smiles or too many tears are two signs you aren’t arguing well.

6 thoughts on “TIL2017 – Argue”

  1. […] Vassallo was a designer before being a founder or VC. He writes that design thinking is advantageous for two reasons; better arguments and as a disruption antidote. You want a design cofounder who can “project her weirdness onto the organization.” We call back-and-forths between multiple-points-of-view Arguing Well. […]


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