A not often discussed but nevertheless critical ingredient for any successful and enduring business relationship is a bit of ‘niggle’. Notice I said ‘a bit’. I don’t mean it in a negative way but rather in a way to describe a degree of healthy tension that should be present when parties with competing, or even aligned, interests come together to do business.

The best business relationships I have had in the past 25 years have involved equal measures of tummy rubbing and encouragement, exploration, support, brainstorming, vigorous debate and some brawling. The worst have been overweight in tummy rubbing and head nodding and while wonderfully convivial have typically achieved very little (other than avoiding the difficult underlying issues that brought us together in the first place). Similarly too much brawling can produce limited results.

What I most value is when people provide frank and fearless advice. Advice that is grounded in hard-earned experience with a deep understanding of risk (vs. reward). Advice that is provided with a genuine desire to move things forward rather than clinging to the past. Advice without a hidden agenda or ulterior motives. Advice that is (most importantly) truthful and well-considered, even if it is unpopular or unwelcome.

Advice of this type can necessarily involve a bit of niggle because it won’t always be what you want to hear. It might grate at you and make you angry. It might result in you using defensive (and dangerous) expressions like “they just don’t get it” when the truth of the matter might be quite different. It might seem easier to ignore sometimes but if the person offering the advice is reputable and their motives are genuine then they’re probably worth listening to.

For me, ‘niggle’ is the secret sauce of any successful and enduring business relationship (internal or external). Why? Because it removes comfort zones from business and that is a good thing. It means that those protecting the ‘old’ have to clash with those promoting the ‘new’. And, if for no reason, that’s why a bit of niggle is important…


The Bull Appears at Failcon

Come at join me at Failcon, Australia’s first and only conference about the importance of failure. I’ll be participating in a panel discussion with among others Layne Beachley, Australia’s most successful ever female surfer. It will be a great day, with a stellar line up of speakers.  I hope you can join us.


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