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Becoming A Dissent Farmer

Optimism can only take you so far in your business.

Now some men like a fishin’
And some men like the fowlin’
And some men like to hear
To hear the cannonball roarin’
“Whiskey in the Jar,” Metallica (Irish traditional song)

Entrepreneurs tend to be irrational optimists. Who else would plunge headlong into an existence where nothing is guaranteed and all that’s required is all of your financial and emotional resources? It’s no wonder this group (me included) can sometimes get a little high on its own supply, occasionally finding giddy founders over their skis.

Opinion sharing – Getty Images
Getty Images

I began my entrepreneurial journey with very little to risk and all I envisioned were boundless possibilities. Everyone told me I was crazy, but I went for it anyway. As time has passed and life unfolded, I’ve found my once bulletproof risk profile a little more circumspect. I look before I leap, and spreadsheets, once the bane of my existence, are now a trusted ally. The early days of any new venture are often fueled by dizzying anticipation of hockey stick growth and setting the world on fire. In these heady times it’s hard to focus on the fact that precisely 0 percent of the businesses I’ve been involved in have ever produced numbers that aligned with initial pro forma projections. They have, however, all taken twice to 3.14 times as long to get rolling and produce profits. In light of this sobering fact, I’ve started leaning into the “what ifs” surrounding when (not if) things don’t go to plan. Some may see my perspective as pessimistic. I choose to use the job title that best fits my new lease on life: dissent farmer.

Also by Henry Clifford: Unhappy Clients and Their ‘Jump to Conclusions’ Mats

I learned about the agricultural nuances of dissent farming from Reid Hastings in his book No Rules Rules. The idea is to take any new idea and fly it toward the storm clouds (thanks to Snap One’s Jeff Hindman for this killer analogy). What if we don’t hit the super-optimistic revenue goals we’ve set for ourselves? What if we can’t find the talent we need in the timetable we’ve forecast? It’s a piece of cake if you’re into radical candor.

Dissent farming is by no means the act of becoming one of the old men in the back of the theater during The Muppet Show. It’s all about buy-in. By socializing our ideas with as many people as possible, we get the largest, most diverse range of opinions, which tend to fall into thematic buckets. There are times to listen to these opinions and other times when we need to disregard them because our audience may not be able to envision radical change in a way that’s productive to inform a go/no-go decision.

Farming for dissent gets you out of your office and talking with the team. Employees love feeling like they have a say in the direction of the company and value being asked for their opinions. Just asking someone what they think makes them feel special and recognized. When asked about the number one reason people stay at their jobs, recognition consistently ranks in the top five responses.

Asking people for their honest take on an issue builds trust and while it won’t ensure all your ideas are bulletproof, it goes a long way to driving up employee engagement and driving down attrition rates.

Also by Henry Clifford: Tapping Into Your Company’s Hive Mind

Business owners can be a tricky bunch. To those who are sensitive to their ideas being questioned, dissent farming might feel very uncomfortable. As one of my buddies is fond of saying, “The human ego is a fragile thing.” If you feel like you always have to be the one with all the answers, I challenge you to socialize your next big idea and ask people for their honest take. If you’ve been guilty of only wanting to hear “good news” in the past, you may have to farm anonymously with surveys until you build up some trust with your team to allay fears that they won’t have their heads chopped off for speaking truth to power.

What are you doing to farm for dissent inside your business?

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.