Why You Need A Little Intransigence


An effective organization has a little intransigence.


The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

 – George Bernard Shaw

Meditate on that quotation for a minute.

Now, think about whether you have ever encountered the marginalization of an “unreasonable” person.  Once you’ve been in leadership positions long enough, you come to accept that it happens.  The brilliant researcher whose ideas are just too outlandish gets ignored by the cool-kid MBAs because he’s too likely to call their spin what it is.

The exceptional sales person whose ideas would revolutionize the way the company sells is just too aggressive with senior management to “get things done” the political way.

It happens all the time.

Now, think about someone you know who has actually built or turned around a company.  Think about how much of their style depended on being accommodating and flexible vs. directive and uncompromising. You will find a lot more of the uncompromising style in a real builder.  The easiest ones to name are nearly caricatures of doing things their own way–think Jobs, Rockefeller, Ford.

Somebody, somewhere, thought each of them were “unreasonable.”

And, there’s a lesson in these two thoughts.  You, as a leader, might buy into the notion that you have to go along to get along.  That’s fine, but you have to realize that real progress–real growth–requires people who are willing to challenge the status quo.

If you find yourself marginalizing people with new ideas because they don’t “get” your earnings target, you are part of the problem.  If you find yourself being bothered by someone whose entrepreneurial push to get you to try new things threatens your own well ordered sense of the world, you are limiting progress in your organization.

In short, if you aren’t the unreasonable one, then you need to find a few of them on your team.

There’s probably a critical mass of “stubborn” on a given management team.  I would guess it’s somewhere more than 20% of the team and somewhere less than 50% of the team; but I believe that proportion depends highly on the leader of the team.

A leadership team composed of a group of acolytes who only seek to enshrine themselves alongside the leader can be successful in the short term (if you read this blog you know that I believe that anyone can be successful in the short term).  But, it will lack the capacity to challenge the status quo.

Don’t murder or marginalize your unreasonable ones. Find a way to “dose” and channel the stubbornness into new things.  Create forums for intransigence and revolution.

You just might build something.

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