Why would you bring a potential troublemaker into your team?
In a globalised economy, standardisation happens at all levels. From business models and accepted commercial behaviours to shopping habits and lifestyles, it has become very difficult to single out truly original, non conformist thinking.
Conformity seems to be the rule, and especially in the business world, being “politically correct” has become the attitude of choice when faced with any meaningful decision. Better not stir up controversy, right? Ruled by fear, better not go against the flow.
In corporate situations for example, it’s about agreeing with the big boss because she is, after all, the big boss and by definition cannot be wrong. It’s about replying “that’s a great question” when we truly think it’s dumb. It’s about giving up defending our point of view when we sense that the rest of the team starts feeling uncomfortable.
The same passive attitude often crosses over to the society at large. We stop questioning our politicians, we take the news at face value, we skim the surface and give up digging into the details of things. We play good citizens and good corporate team players because that’s what the others expect us to do.
So when a contrarian view is brought to the table, the first reaction is usually to push back. No, you can’t be right. You’re the only one who thinks that. We’ve always done it like this, why should we change now?
I’m convinced that instead we should encourage, even embrace contrarian views. Practicing disbelief should be encouraged at all levels. Pupils should not believe what they are told by teachers, TV viewers should beware of the news, governments should definitely never be believed.
The point is not to ignore all those sources, but rather it’s about learning more on your own terms, and then taking another look. Take a stand and fight if it can’t be helped. Thanks to the internet and the www, it’s easier than ever to build knowledge and develop our own point of view. Plenty of resources, mostly free. All it takes is a little bit of time and some healthy curiosity. The effect that such a simple recipe can have is to turn us into more balanced, opinionated and fact grounded challengers. A step up from challengers, and we become contrarians.
Not people who argue for the sake of arguing, of course, but rather smart, driven individuals who have strong, contrary opinions, that happily break the rules and that foster innovative, fresh and unconventional thinking.
Some might call them troublemakers, if nothing else because they make others slightly uncomfortable. Troublemakers may seem, but they’re often the ones able to see problems differently from anyone else and whose crazy ideas might just work. Even if they won’t, a robust dissenting view will in the end drive everybody else in the team to perform better.
Practicing a healthy contrarianism should be encouraged from an early age, and in this respect I believe that a lot of the responsibility to make it happen sits with parents and especially with the education system. Sure, a teacher with a room full of contrarians would probably struggle to move forward with the planned program. That’s why we need to develop better teachers, provide them with a different skill set and apply radically different metrics to assess their performance. All in all, a great opportunity for pupils to learn how to debate, argue and build up consensus for what they believe in.
At work, we should welcome contrarian views rather than discouraging them, and channel the energy they provide, and possibly the discomfort they might stir, into a positive, healthy driver of innovation. Think about it next time you disagree with somebody in your team meeting, or at your next performance review, or when a new project will be dropped on your table by your boss with a set of do’s and don’ts attached to it.
“What if I take a contrarian view?” is the right question you should ask yourself. It might not come natural, but with a little bit of practice you might end up discovering inside of you the invaluable nature of a true contrarian.
I write about leadership and business practices. This post is an excerpt from my book Leader$hip, an insider guide. If you enjoyed it, please share.