Sharpen the Contradictions

In a recent conversation with Tim Ferriss, Ben Horowitz, a co-founder and general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, shared a line he likes to use in management:

Sharpen the contradictions.”

What he means by this line is that in an organization, you will often witness little disagreements between people. But instead of smoothing things over, which is often the first reaction, the better answer is to sharpen the contradictions because there is a lot of information hidden in them. There is always a reason why people disagree. It might be that something still needs clarification or that there is a misunderstanding. It might be that your objectives are not aligned or that your strategy is wrong.

This technique of sharpening the contradictions is not only applicable in organizational management, but it also works well in design and development. Whenever a team tries to solve a problem together, there will inevitably be moments of disagreement. We have all been there. But how the team handles this contradiction is crucial: Do they kill the messenger and dismiss any objections? Do they try to dispel any concerns and stick to the word of those higher up in the pecking order? Do they avoid conflict at all costs and prefer to “better move on”? Or do they instead take those objections and disagreements seriously and recognize that something might be wrong here or that they might be missing an opportunity? And do they then try to generate more information and insight by asking questions, validating their assumptions, and exploring alternatives?

As human beings, we are wrong more often than we want to admit or realize. We all tend to overestimate how much we understand about the world or a given problem and rush to make overconfident judgments and decisions based on causality where, in reality, none exists. Our mind even generates causality when, in fact, there is none.

So when someone disagrees with you, listen. When someone questions a decision, take it seriously. When someone comes up with an idea that you instinctively want to dismiss immediately, take a moment to consider it. Try to understand: What is the other person’s point here? What is the reasoning behind the objection? Why do we disagree? Or why did they think that their idea is worth mentioning? Do your best to sharpen the contradictions by asking questions or, for example, by building a prototype together. Otherwise, you might be missing an opportunity for improvement or, even worse, you might be on the wrong track without noticing it.


17 Webmentions

Photo of Sara Soueidan
Sara Soueidan
I really enjoyed the insight in this one. Thank you for writing it.
Photo of Revelino