My business partner and I are political opposites: It makes us stronger

Neil Robertson
Thatcher In Thought
I’m a firm individualist. My business partner believes in a more collectivist society (Source: Getty)

I disagree with my business partner Rory on nearly everything – and that’s exactly why we work so well together.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re not extremists. I’m not some kind of foaming Ukipper and Rory isn’t, to paraphrase Orwell, some sort of bearded, fruit juice drinking Leninist. But while our ideas are firmly within the Overton window, our political principles are still wildly different.

I’m a firm individualist: I believe in free markets and free people, and think expensive government-run organisations just waste money. Rory believes in a more collective vision of society that supports and nurtures everyone with the help of sensible taxation.

Our political stances, our perspectives, and our lifestyles are completely opposed – and our company is much stronger for it.

Argue early, argue often

One of the things Rory and I agree on is that political argument has become debased. Online news has become partisan and nuance-free – and social media disseminates it to audiences that have already decided their opinions before they’ve even clicked on the article. In real life, people often prefer the company of people they agree with, and on social media, they’re often the same. The end result is that nobody broadens their perspective or reconsiders their position. They fail to evolve and grow.

Read more: Fake news is troubling – but censorship is far worse

Businesses often function similarly – to their detriment. Cultures of deference and harmony are pervasive, but the market is naturally and inevitably Darwinian. If your company is an echo chamber where everybody thinks like you, holds hands, and never rocks the boat, then you’re bound to run into trouble. The best ideas are rarely developed fully-formed: they need to be challenged and iterated.

Start arguing early on in your business’s existence and often, and the company will only benefit. Working with someone that I completely disagree with isn’t always easy, but I’ve come to believe that it’s necessary. When your persuasive muscles aren’t exercised, they inevitably atrophy.

Debate without hate

Worse, if you face no meaningful opposition from within, you’ll constantly find yourself exposed when you have to explain why your company is better than its competitors. It’s much harder to identify potential problems or potential improvements – and when you’ve missed an obvious red flag issue or your rivals have stumbled on something better, you then lose out on business.

My business partner and I would rather work to make the company a success than bask in the warm glow of positive reinforcement. So when we spot problems in each other’s line of reasoning – whether they’re to do with suggestions for product development, client pitches, or something else entirely – we take inspiration from our heated discussions about the state of the nation and we just say so. The other person is immediately put on the back foot and forced to justify their position. If the reasoning behind an idea isn’t satisfactory, we revise it until it is, or we drop the idea entirely. This leads to better decisions, better products, and happier clients.

Read more: It’s time for business to get emotional

This culture of challenge and conflict has trickled down to the rest of the business, and if an employee has an idea that’s better than ours or wants to express pointed, but valid disapproval of something the company is doing, we’ll embrace it. Though it’s become fashionable to refer to it as “radical candour”, there’s nothing radical about it: it’s simple, honest and constructive criticism, stated with respect – and without malice.

Conflict and consensus

We prefer a culture of debate to a culture of deference. Because when you can argue radically different perspectives well, you’re much better placed to learn, improve, and make the most of your respective strengths. Together, you can gauge whether a situation requires a diplomatic and nurturing or strident and aggressive approach. The company and its employees are better for this philosophy.

On subjects such as Brexit, taxation, and the upcoming election, Rory and I will probably never agree. But we never doubt each other’s commitment to the company, and we’ll always give each other’s opinions a fair hearing.

They may be slightly infuriating when we’re stuck on a long car journey, but our political debates have strengthened both our leadership skills and our business.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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