Friday, June 14, 2013

Here's to the trouble-makers



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A lot of people just do stuff. They get things done. They are doers. They deliver. They work very hard. They often put great proud to it. And they should.

However, a lot of these people rarely think about WHY they do what they do. When they say they don’t have the time to stop for a while to reflect, they are usually right. If they do, the pile of emails will get bigger and bigger. The amount of meetings will flood their calendars and become unmanageable. They are fighting the symptoms of lack of prioritization, and ultimately from not knowing or questioning why they are doing the things they do. What is worse, they don’t know how to do it and how to let what they learn influence what they do.

No wonder, most of us have been taught  to deliver without questioning at school, to complete the Math’s book or whatever assignment we are given as fast as possible. Being ahead of our classmates is the key performance indicator, besides the obvious one is to have the correct answers. The fastest and safest way to succeed in this environment is to comply, to do as you have been told, without thinking, questioning, or reflecting if what you are doing is the right thing to do, or why you need to do it, what you will learn, or how it will be useful to you.

Then comes a time when we leave school and go to work. We soon discover that the reality outside the walls of school is different. There seldom is a single right answer to a question, or a single solution to a problem. The environment we operate in and the conditions for our work are changing all the time. Rather than simply complying with a bunch of rules and waiting for someone to tell us what to do - so we can try to do it as fast and good as possible - we need to proactively adapt to a changing environment. We need to learn new things and unlearn things we have learned before. We need to solve problems and seize opportunities that might require us to step out of our comfort zones, bend or even break rules, question conventional wisdom, and look for answers where no one has ever looked before.

To be successful in this reality, organizations desperately need people who are both thinkers and doers. People that are able to get things done, but always start with asking “Why?”. Paradoxically, this behavior is something that is rarely encouraged or rewarded in organizations. Most organizations still measure and reward performance in other ways, similar to how our children are being measured and rewarded at school. You shouldn't think or question the tasks you are given. Instead you should comply and do as you have been told. If you complete your tasks sooner than expected and find the right answer for each task, you will be recognized and rewarded.

(from "Visual Thinking" by Rudolf Arnheim)

At school, we are supposed to conform and comply. To be "good at school" is often the same thing as conforming and complying with the rules at school. At school, anyone who asks "Why?" too often is seen as a trouble-maker. Yet, when in the right environment, these trouble-makers will be much more prone to make a real difference to organizations and society than the ones who are "good at school". Sometimes dropping out of school to follow your passion can be the best thing to do, even though no parent wants their children to do so. Then again, most parents have been trained at school and work to conform and comply, and know very little of the future their children need to be prepared for.
“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round heads in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them. Disagree with them. Glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” (Think Different, Apple)


Image credit: Street art in Berlin 

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