Everybody’s a Critic

As we all become wrapped up in the day to day aspects of running a business we tend to forget how things came together, and what was required to get us to this point. The old adage “Plan your work, and then work your plan” really does start to ring true.

A strong planning process can help avoid many issues and smooth out those that you do encounter. It is during this planning process that it helps to remember what I consider to be another truism: “When it comes to plans, it is far easier to critique then it is to create” (I am sure this one has been said/written somewhere else before, but I don’t know where. So for now I’ll claim it.)

Whenever we are shown a presentation or plan it seems to be our nature to point out what is “wrong” with it. We have a tendency to try and poke holes in it and show where it may not be sufficient to meet the needs. Unless you have been very concise about what it is you wanted and expected (something few leaders are really good at) being this type of critic is usually a counterproductive process.

When putting together a plan, focus on the aspects that are correct and will be retained in the plan going forward. That should be a positive lead into the areas that will need further refining. Creating a plan is not an easy thing. It is a lot easier for everyone with encouragement than it is with criticism.

Sun Tzu Was Right

In his book “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu (a 5th century B.C. Chinese general) stated “If you know yourself, and you know your competition, you will never lose a battle” – I hope you don’t mind if I have paraphrased a little.


Sun Tzu speaks about the importance of knowing your own capabilities, whether they are personal, corporate, technological, whatever. You must assess if you have the skill and resources to achieve the desired goal. He also speaks about the importance of knowing your competitors (opponents) capabilities, along the same lines.


He also talks about taking into account the terrain, climate and intangibles when preparing for war / competition. These ideas can be roughly analogous to the market, the economy and the morale/status of your team.


What he does not say is that if you take these things into account that you will win. What he does say is that you will not lose. What this means to me is that after these reviews, you need to pick your battles and your objectives. Analyze the risk and the return. If after review you find yourself at a significant competitive or market disadvantage, it may be best not to engage in that competitive environment.


Use the analysis of yourself, your competitors, and the various markets to choose those opportunities where your probabilities of success are highest. It sounds simple enough. It should be simple enough. To use a modern day analogy, it’s like blocking and tackling in football. But as we have seen in football, the basics are not always that simple based on the high level of talent and competition out there, and even then it takes a significant amount of practice to get  the basics right.

Disagreements Are Good

I have heard it said “If everybody says it’s so, then the chances are very good that it is really not so”. I think this is another way of saying that if everybody agrees, then you have a problem. Healthy disagreement within a team is a desirable condition as long as it is handled properly.


When putting together your team it is easy to get lulled into the comfort of bringing on “Known Quantities” and friends. A problem that this situation can generate is complacency and a lack of diverse thinking.


Issues and problems need to be looked at from many vantage points before the best solution can be generated. Different people with different perspectives will provide this. Just as “sales” people will invariably generate a sales solution, “finance” people will also generate a finance solution. The “best” solution may indeed incorporate aspects of both sales and finance.


With this diversity of thought and perspective will come disagreement. This will be healthy, as long as everyone plays by the rules that:
1. The disagreement is not personal, and
2. The objective is to generate the “best” solution, not “my” solution.


The end result of this team management by disagreement is both a stronger team and a stronger business. “Group Think” and “blind spots” are avoided and the best aspects of all perspectives can be incorporated into running the business. That makes for a stronger business.