Don’t listen to agree or disagree - just agree to listen

Aug 12, 2016 by Ronnie Apteker

I am going to kick-off this discussion with two great quotes. The first from Stephen Hawking who said, “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” And the second from Aristotle, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Today’s piece is about challenging your thinking. It is about the process of learning. It is about opening your mind. It is about imagination and discovery.

I once heard a Rabbi give a talk. He said that modern audiences do not listen to learn. He said that they listen to see if they agree or not. If they agree they listen more, and if they disagree then they switch off.

Do you agree?

Business should focus on making a difference and not only on making money. And leaders need to listen more than anyone else. Furthermore, money and motivation have nothing to do with each other. Now, if you think these ideas are crazy, then how about this: It does not take a great idea to start a great company. In fact, starting a company based on an idea might actually be a bad idea.

Yes, please do not read this from the angle of whether or not you agree or disagree. Don’t read to agree or disagree. This stifles learning and this is a big challenge in these modern times of constant distraction. Give your full attention to understanding. If you fully understand and you disagree then that is your right. Having understood a different viewpoint, you are entitled to disagree. One has to learn to understand viewpoints with which you don’t agree with. You don’t have to hear what you agree with – what you agree with you know already. What one has to study and learn are viewpoints with which you don’t agree.


In the book Built to Last (which is a must read) the authors explore how many of the great companies of our time began. Some of the most inspiring and visionary organizations started off with no great idea for a product or service. Instead a group of people got together because they wanted to do something exciting. They wanted to change the world. They wanted to make a difference to this planet, and they wanted to leave a legacy. And these are the same reasons why so many companies are formed. Just think of two people who get married because they fall in love, as opposed to learning to love each other. In a business if you have a love affair with a concept (a product or service say) and the concept fails (perhaps the market changes or technology makes it redundant etc.) then you are likely to abandon the company. If your love is for the company itself then it does not really matter what ideas are explored. The point is that a company will outlive ideas and products and services.

A company is really a group of people who come together because they like each other and because they share a common vision. They pool their different skills and they challenge each other’s thinking. Together they are stronger. This is what a marriage, a friendship, a sports team, and a business are all about. If you start a business because you are in love with a product then you will be in a volatile position. Things change. All the time. Legislation changes. Technology changes. Trends change. Your tastes will change. If you lose interest in the product you fell in love with then it is highly likely that you will lose interest in the business altogether.

Clock builders

The visionary companies of our time, businesses, soccer teams, marriages, cities and countries, all have got to where they are because they love the communities that they have created. And if you truly love something (or someone) then you will work at it continuously. The great brands we all know and love in the world today were born from people who loved the idea of inspiring their audiences. This is a never-ending mission. It is something beyond a clearly stated purpose. It goes to the very heart of what makes the world special.

Visionary companies are built by special people and although charisma and charm always help, they are not a key ingredient. As the above mentioned book states, the visionary leaders of the past century concentrated more on architecting an enduring institution than on being great individual leaders. They sought to be clock builders, not time tellers.

Summing up

Today’s discussion is about trying to understand as opposed to arguing. Think about why you want to join a business and, more importantly, why you would want to start a business. Think about the legacy you wish to leave behind as opposed to the profits that you want to accumulate. Think about the people you could bring together as opposed to the products you could enhance. Think about the relationships you can build as opposed to the services you can supply. Now all of this may be a lot to digest so let’s end off like we started, with a quote. I don’t know who wrote this. Whoever you are, you are right on the money. “Many people quit looking for work when they find a job.”

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