Why likeminded people are not always good for business startups

Richard Branson argues that it is essential for an entrepreneur to know they cannot do it all themselves. He contends that a successful “lone wolf” is a myth. However, the real question is not whether the entrepreneur needs help, but who will be most helpful. Intuitively, most people want to find like-minded people to join their endeavor. Aldous Huxley explains that there is a profound psychological satisfaction from working with like-minded people. In addition, it can lead to efficient decision making as everyone is inclined to agree, but that is not necessarily best for the business.

The many dangers of working exclusively with individuals who think alike are well documented. Group Think leads to a reduction in critical thinking. The members self-censor and do not share their concerns or ask questions. The logic is that if their concerns were valid someone else would have raised them. Perhaps the most concerning issue is that everyone will perceive the world in a similar way, creating the potential for blind spots. For example, the excitement for a new product may cause like-minded individuals to overlook potential challenges.

So, what is a non-like-minded individual? It is not a contrarian who disagrees with everyone just for the sake of disagreement. It is not an unqualified individual who offers distracting feedback. It is not an unlikable individual who presents feedback in a way that cannot be heard. Rather the person is a Divergent Voice who is fearless in raising concerns when justified. These individuals will be marked by asking questions, challenging assumptions, identifying alternative outcomes, listening to other perspectives, and offering feedback when appropriate.

It is not an unlikable individual who presents feedback in a way that cannot be heard. Rather the person is a Divergent Voice who is fearless in raising concerns when justified.

One of the key elements of a Divergent Voice is their contextual existence. It is entirely possible that a conservative accountant would be part of the dominant group in one organization, but a Divergent Voice in a creative organization. Hence, every endeavor is capable of recruiting a Divergent Voice.

The value of a Divergent Voice is easily seen in the early years of Google. In 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin co-founded the company after completing graduate studies together. They shared similar backgrounds and passions. Some business writers have noted that while they were born on opposite sides of the world they were cut from the same cloth. In 1999, Larry and Sergey unsuccessfully attempted to sell the company for $750,000. In 2001, under the recommendation of investors, Eric Schmidt was hired as CEO. Eric brought a different approach to leadership. From a technical perspective, Eric did not bring the missing piece but rather he allowed the talented people to achieve more than they previously had. Some have remarked that he brought “adult” supervision. During Eric’s tenure, Google went public in 2004 with a value over $20 billion.

Divergent Voices are essential to startups. As the entrepreneur is looking to grow the business, they will not only need individuals with different technical skills, but people who see the world differently. If Richard Branson is correct that the entrepreneur cannot be a lone wolf, then it is equally true that the entrepreneur cannot be a wolf surrounded by sheep.

Divergent Voices are essential to startups.

In the coming months, future posts will discuss strategies for leveraging the power of Divergent Voices and ways organizations drive out Divergent Voices. Richard Branson on the Myth of the Lone-Wolf Entrepreneur (nbcnews.com)

Prof. Jason MacGregor

Lecturer at AVODA

Jason is an Associate Professor and Roderick Holmes Chair of Accountancy at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, USA. He is originally from Canada. He has undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. Jason is also Treasurer at the ICIE Fund, AVODA’s main fundraising partner

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