How other people can improve your ideas

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The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Winning an argument means you have learnt nothing at the end you didn’t know at the start. How many times do you stop listening to someone because you are thinking about your reply?

  • Do you really believe opinion and solutions are right or wrong?
  • Are there multiple opinions and solutions with different strengths and weaknesses?

Listening helps people feel valued and increases your chance of learning. After reading Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking and How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide, I came up with ideas to improve my thinking, problems solving and understanding of the world. I want to collaborate with people more effectively and see different perspectives of the same problem.

Focus on learning, not being right

It’s not about being right, it’s about getting to the right answer. In the heat of a discussion it seems to matter, but the next day no one cares whose idea it was. Remove the ego from discussions, it gets in the way of learning. People who disagree are a valuable commodity because you learn nothing when discussing topics with someone who has the same opinion. It’s the people who have a different perspective that can help you understand a solution from a different point of view.

Solutions are not right or wrong, there is not one best solution. Solutions have strengths and weaknesses, the better solution in one scenario might not work in other scenarios.

The right solution today could be replaced with a different solution built using new technology or service, so don’t get to hung up on any solution.

Be curious, try to understand their logic

When you think you are right, you learn nothing on that subject. Ask questions to find out why they think that and what logic they use.

Listen more than you talk

You learn when you listen, and you say things you already know when you talk. If you want to learn more, you need to listen more. There is a risk here you could end up listening to nonsense, but even this might teach you something.

Ask open questions

Ask how and what questions, these will prompt the person to think about the logic they are using.


  • What makes you think that?
  • How will it work in this scenario?

The benefit of asking how and what questions, is if the logic makes little sense, by trying to explain it they can see it themselves. Other people don’t change our minds, we change our own mind. When it’s our words questioning the logic of our argument, it’s a lot more persuasive than someone else saying it.

Build a bridge

Discussions are not a competition with winners and losers. If you push someone into a corner or are aggressive then they will become defensive and the discussion will no longer be about the topic but defending themselves.

You can build a bridge but offering weaknesses in your opinions and solutions, this will encourage them to do the same.

Reply Yes and

When someone else puts forward a suggestion you start your reply with Yes and.

Replying yes and is taken from improv. It means you take what the other person is saying and build on it, it means you have to listen. I like to visualise this as you both building a solution which is a tower. The other person puts down a brick and you build on that and place a brick on top. Saying yes and encourage people to input into the conversation because their statements are not rejected or attacked.

Saying yes and doesn’t mean you have to agree but means you listen and acknowledge it.

Know when not to have an opinion

No one is an expert in everything, so when you don’t have any expertise on a subject, remember that. The reason we have experts is to consult them in their expertise, yet despite this I have seen many people with limited knowledge disagree with the expert who had years of experience.

Working on IT projects, I have seen customers disagree with the IT professionals they hired and insist they go with the customers solution. This has resulted in failed projects because the customer didn’t realise the intricacies of the solution and the effects it would have.

Try to remember when you have no expertise, ask the experts questions rather than giving opinions.

Know when opinions don’t matter

On some topics there is no logic, so don’t waste time arguing. I remember arguing with my Dad who was the better band the Beatles or Blur. It was an opinion and everyone’s opinion is right to them, so don’t waste time trying to persuade others.

There is another question you should ask yourself, do I care about this?

Understand different options and their strengths and weaknesses

Great ideas often grow from poor initial ideas. Understanding a solution will give you a different perspective of the problem and allow you to see different options in a solution. Many times you get a better solution by mixing the strengths of different solutions together.

What criteria am I using to make this decision

The limitations to solutions are often the assumptions we are making. Question these, you can create new solutions you hadn’t previously considered. Assumptions are insidious because we often quickly gloss over them and they hide from our questions.

The answers you get are only as good as the questions you ask. Your questions come from the criteria you used to create a solution, again assumptions can deceive you.


Using people to help you learn is an effective way to broaden your perspectives and make quick progress on problems. To do it you have to listen well, put aside your ego and be curious about other people’s ideas.

I want to improve my thinking, decision making and collaboration with people. I need to move away from being right and learning more about the options and seeing the world from different angles.

Following the tips above will help me learn more effectively, which will bring long-term benefits.

Futher reading

“You must force yourself to consider opposing arguments. Especially when they challenge your best-loved ideas.” Charlie Munger

Written by

Have been working with Dynamics 365 since version 4 and enjoy reading and delivering enterprise projects

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