Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre
minds. — Albert Einstein
In his book, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, Charles Swindoll
tells of meeting a man who once served on one of Walt Disney’s
original advisory boards. The early days were tough; but that
remarkable creative visionary refused to give up.
What was particularly intriguing was how Disney responded to
disagreement. He said that Disney would occasionally present some
unbelievable, extensive dream he was entertaining. Almost without
exception, the members of his board would gulp, and stare back in
disbelief, resisting the thought of such a thing. But unless every
member resisted the idea, Disney usually did not pursue it. The
challenge was not big enough to merit his time and creative energy
unless they were unanimously in disagreement
Taught by most in Leadership 101 is how to get along with others,
build consensus, and to speak with one voice. This art is practiced in
many conference rooms as leaders measure success by their ability to
squash resistance to their agenda and corral the “rebel rousers” who
dare stand in the way. And this is where the practice of good
leadership fundamentals with its predictable boundaries must embrace
unlimited progress through constructive disagreement.
Insecure leaders will never accept or tolerate disagreement and see it
as a form of rebellion that must be defeated. It reminds me of the
time veteran baseball umpire Bill Guthrie was working behind home
plate one afternoon and the catcher for the visiting team was
repeatedly protesting his calls. Guthrie endured this for a number of
innings, and then called a halt. “Son,” he said softly, “you’ve been a
big help to me in calling balls and strikes today, and I appreciate
it. But I think I’ve got the hang of it now, so I am going to ask you
to go to the clubhouse and show whoever’s there how to take a shower.”
How do you handle disagreements? Do you take it personal? Do you
punish those who disagree with you? Or do you, like Disney, embrace
and welcome disagreement as a means to making large dreams come true?
Here are three observations to help you embrace constructive
disagreements and create a culture in your organization that welcomes
1. Constructive disagreements unleash creative thinkers.
Disney refused to embrace small dreams. If the dream and the
opposition were too small, it did not merit his time and creative
energy. But he knew he was surrounded with gifted people. And he knew
his team did not disagree for the sake of resistance, but ultimately
they resisted the notion that the impossible was not within their
Erich Fromm said, “Creativity requires the courage to let go of
certainties.” And in like manner, it requires courage to let go of
what others have labeled certain failure for what you believe are
acceptable risks. Creative thinkers set aside conventional wisdom and
push through as a team to achieve the impossible.
2. Constructive disagreements unshackle big dreams.
It almost sounds like a contradiction. But real progress is made not
when there is unanimous agreement about mediocre ideas but with
disagreement on how to conquer large ones. The path of least
resistance requires little. Not disagreement. It demands engagement,
commitment, and a personal investment in the outcome.
Disney wanted to present his team with ideas and dreams that would
challenge their traditional ways of thinking and tap into their
creative genius. It is one thing as a leader to value and appreciate
those who always agree with you, but in order to go to a higher level
you have to be courageous enough to embrace the ideas and can-do
spirit of those who disagree and trust them to deliver. What big
dreams have you embraced?
3. Constructive disagreements produce undeniable results.
By embracing unanimous disagreements Disney and his team created magic
that has endured for decades. Millions of people all over the world
have experienced the wonders of the Disney brand.
Are you a leader with big dreams and great ideas? Your rise to the
next level could be just one disagreement away from reality. As you
unleash creative thinkers, unshackle big dreams, you too can attain
big results. But first you must step out of your comfort zone and look
at things in a new light… wouldn’t you agree?
Doug Dickerson is a syndicated columnist. He writes a weekly column
for this newspaper. To contact Doug Dickerson, email him at