Letting the Power of the Idea Stand for Itself

I love college football. As practices started and I heard the news that Joe Paterno, Head Coach of the Penn State University football team was recently injured in a sideline collision with a player, I was reminded of a Sports Illustrated article I read about him before the start of last season.

“Joe Pa” as he’s called will be 85 in December and has coached at Penn State for more than 60 years. He holds the record for most football victories in college football history and doesn’t have plans to retire as long as he’s, “still making an impact.”

The article talks about arguing and how Paterno grew up in a family that argued about everything. In fact, arguing was encouraged. When I was growing up, arguing was not encouraged but I thought Joe’s explanation for arguing made sense and is something that when approached this way should be encouraged.

Paterno will often attack an assistant coach’s idea with a barrage of questions and doubts just to see if the coach’s idea will withstand the challenge. He’ll also occasionally throw an idea out that he doesn’t really believe in just to see how his assistant coach’s respond to it and if they have the strength to speak their minds.

“Why can’t we talk without calling each other names?” Joe asks. “I mean in the world. Everyone around, they scream at each other about politics or what’s happening. Why can’t someone just stand up and say ‘Why? How? When? What does it matter?’ Let the power of the idea fight for itself.”

The more I think about it the more I like what he says. If done in the right way and in the right spirit, there really isn’t anything wrong with challenging an idea, asking questions about it and arguing about it. If the idea is a good one it will survive and everybody involved will understand it better and be more committed to it. A challenge or argument shouldn’t be done as a “screw you” to a colleague you dislike but as a way to understand or strengthen the idea.

In my experience, if the concept is good, a challenge or debate about the idea can only make it better. It will either fortify the idea in the presenters mind and everybody else’s minds or it will find the weaknesses and make it stronger. Also, if others feel like they have a say in it they’re more likely to buy into and support the idea from the beginning and feel as if they have some ownership in it.