Sources of unreasonableness

Plamen Balkanski
Jun 28, 2017 · 4 min read

From an early age we are trained to be reasonable, to comply, and to follow the rules. While there are good reasons to follow certain regulations like laws and traffic guidelines, there are also areas of life and work in which it pays off to be unreasonable. Read on to learn why…

It’s been several years since I first read the famous quote above and, mainly through often feeling out of place and on the unreasonable side of things at work, I have developed a strong attachment to it. I have not however tried to find a deeper meaning in the quote up to this point in time.

However, I recently found myself reading a rather extraordinary book that describes well my experience and my feelings in the process of facilitating innovation in organisations that find themselves unable to break free from their own processes and tools.

But before we come back to the present day, I’d like to take you back in time to the late 1980s and consider the “forces that are changing the world” as described by Charles Handy in his highly popular book “The Age of Unreason”.

The first force Handy talks about is the “discontinuous change” brought by major developments in information technology, biotech and economy and surely we have many examples of those (e.g. AirBnB, Bitcoin). The idea seems as valid today as it has been 30 years ago.

The second force in Handy’s book is the “smaller changes in the way we work” described as the “shamrock organisation” which is already popular with the contracting, flexi-hours and telecommuting jobs more or less the norm these days.

The third and final force described by Handy is “upside-down thinking” in which he basically invites us to challenge everything we know about how the world works and try to look at and experience everything in a new way.

At the time, all of these (and that is if you remember the 80s), must have been highly unreasonable and progressive suggestions, which many of us have consequently ignored until the point in time they gained popularity and eventually become the norm.

Back to nowadays, I find myself fascinated by the advice in Adam Morgan and Mark Barden’s book, appropriately named, “A Beautiful constraint” which I am currently re-reading. The book provides simple and practical tools to help anyone use constraints as source of inspiration and innovation.

In the book, when it comes to sources of unreasonableness, Adam and Mark offer the following four sources of unreasonable external constraints before going on to provide real world examples of how organisations throughout the world have used these constraints to innovate.

The Unreasonable Regulator

These are constraints imposed by regulation authorities in an attempt to preserve scarce resources or control pollution. For example the US Congress has set a goal to car manufacturers to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. This has led to the unlikely cooperation between car manufacturers to develop new technologies in order to hit the regulatory goals

The Unreasonable Consumer

Over the years consumers have learned to demand more, encouraged by services that are designed to give us more. Why can’t I have the food that I like delivered to me even if the small tacos shop I like does not do delivery (Deliveroo)? Why can’t I ride a bike to work without having to worry where to store it (Santander bikes) ? Why can’t I get my online order delivered within a few hours (Amazon)? And the consumers take this new and unreasonable expectation into every aspect of their life.

The Unreasonable Customer

This is evident when manufacturers or retailers pass on their own unreasonable demands to their suppliers. An example would be when a customer takes their car in for service at the manufacturers service centre and demands to have it back the same day. The car manufacturer in turn demands from their parts supplier to be able to provide most parts with only a few hours notice. Another example would be a retailer offering same day delivery and demanding the same from their suppliers.

The Unreasonable Challenger

This category touches on another favourite topic of mine — discovering the very need that we are aiming to satisfy. A few years ago not many of us would have thought that taxi companies would be competing with regular drivers. Yet services like the one Uber provides made it possible. And when we you look at the actual need, it is easy to see that you don’t need to be a taxi company to fulfill the requirement of getting someone from A to B. A very similar case is Airbnb who have grown to be bigger than Hilton after inventing an unlikely competitor to the big hotel chains.

By looking at the very essence of the customer need, these companies have become an unreasonable challenger to the existing organisations.

And while I find that to be intriguing, here’s the really interesting bit. If we don’t start asking these questions ourselves (e.g. imposing the constraints ourselves) someone else is going to ask them of us and by that time we will be behind the curve. Find it difficult to believe it? Just ask any major retailer how do they feel about Amazon…

I’m going to leave you with this thought… Hopefully, it has sparked your interest sufficiently to want to read “A Beautiful Constraint”. I think it’s well worth the time you’d invest!


We share lean start-up techniques and practices from our Bootstrapping journey

Thanks to Richard Allen

Plamen Balkanski

Written by

Co-founder at and, Start-up geek



We share lean start-up techniques and practices from our Bootstrapping journey

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