In business negotiations and political discussions, people are often urged to ‘be reasonable’ if they stake out a position that seems untenable or challenging. Being reasonable is billed in polite society as a virtue. Indeed, most people would consider it an insult, or at least an affront, to be accused of being ‘unreasonable.’ Reasonableness is seen as the quintessential characteristic of a civilized and educated person. We always want to be reasonable and seem reasonable to others.
The only problem is that being ‘reasonable’ will only get you so far in life. If you want to go further and take your business or career — or some other equally important aspect of your life — to a whole new level (not just the next incremental level), you need to go far beyond being reasonable. To achieve a great breakthrough or make a quantum leap forward, you need delve into the realm of the unreasonable.
Some think that – by definition – being unreasonable is synonymous with stubbornness. However, stubbornness might be more aptly described as someone who knows he is wrong but refuses to change or someone who doesn’t care if he is wrong and simply wants to win. Instead, consider that being unreasonable means having reasons not to do something, and doing it anyway… rejecting the status quo and insisting on finding a way to make the impossible possible.
George Bernard Shaw wrote that “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.” He saw a value and purpose in being unreasonable. While it may be true that it is necessary to be reasonable most of the time, there are certainly times when it is best to simply be unreasonable.
1. Be unreasonable with your dreams.
Give your imagination permission to be ‘unreasonable’ and dream about what today may seem impossible. At one time, people thought it was impossible for a person to fly. It was impossible… until Orville and Wilbur Wright chose to be unreasonable and rejected the notion that flying was only for birds. At one time, the world thought it was childish whimsy for man to be able to walk on the moon. It was… until scientists chose to be unreasonable and rejected that idea that space flight was impossible.
It may seem totally unreasonable today to want a pill that immediately causes a person to lose a lot of weight, but it seemed equally unreasonable to want to have a conversation with a person on the other side of the world in real time two centuries ago. And yet today, it is downright commonplace for people to have conversations with others overseas.
Allow yourself to have really unreasonable dreams! Let’s say your dream is to write a book and have it published. Don’t lower your standards and dream of writing a blog instead because you think a book is too hard or will take too long or no one will publish it. Dream about writing a great book! But why stop there. Dream that you will write a great book that is not only published and becomes a #1 best-selling novel on the New York Times Best Seller list but then goes on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Does that sound excessive and just plain unreasonable? Definitely! That is good.
2. Be unreasonable with your goals.
Once you’ve been unreasonable with your dreams, then set unreasonable goals. It is unlikely anyone will achieve more than the average person if they start out setting ‘reasonable’ goals. It is only by being unreasonable that people excel far out of the social norms. It’s time to stop lowering one’s standards to the expectations of others and achieving only what people expect. Instead, thrive by being unreasonable.
For example, if your boss is expecting you to increase sales 15%, aim to increase sales 150%. Even if you don’t meet that goal, you are bound to do better than 15%. When it comes to goals, ‘reason’ is a glass ceiling that may stand in the way of reaping the full measure of opportunity. Only by setting an unreasonable goal are you likely to find out what is really possible.
3. Be unreasonable with your convictions.
When looking back through the mystique of history, we tend to impose a super-human status to those who stood up for their beliefs to the point of being considered ‘unreasonable’. For some, their ‘unreasonableness’ was a conscious act of defiance of the status quo. Others were simply in the right place at the wrong time, and found themselves acting unreasonably on behalf of others who lacked the courage to speak out. History is littered with the stories of people who changed the world by being ‘unreasonable.’ Rosa Parks. William Wilberforce. Nelson Mandela. Mohandas Ghandi. Lech Walesa. Aung San Suu Kyi.
We would do well to remember that these people were ordinary human beings who made a choice to be ‘unreasonable’ and stand up for what they believed. We all have the same opportunity to choose to engage in creating a better world by rejecting what we see is wrong even when it is deemed ‘reasonable’ or just the way things are.
Case in point. Is it unreasonable – perhaps even pretentious — for a 21-year-old young man to think he can solve the biggest problems in the world today? Perhaps. But that is exactly what Ankur Jain, a student from Wharton’s elite undergraduate school, set out to do three years ago. He founded the Kairos Society, an organization dedicated to bringing entrepreneurial students from around the world together and encouraging them to form global startup companies to address huge issues like world hunger, clean water, green technology development, access to education, energy consumption, healthcare, etc. Over the past three years, the Kairos Society has helped to grow over 100 innovative student ventures. In fact, on February 2-5, 2012, the Kairos Society will host its 2012 Global Summit at the United Nations, New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and the Rockefeller Family Estate. The private gathering will bring together 350 of the world’s leading collegiate entrepreneurs alongside 150 world leaders to work together in creating innovative companies that tackle some of humanities grandest challenges. There, the Kairos Society will also honor the first year of the “Kairos 50”, a selection of the most innovative ventures coming out of undergraduate universities around the world that are already solving problems in the fields of clean water, healthcare, education, and energy. It took just one unreasonable person to refuse the notion that the world’s biggest problems are unsolvable.
There is a time to be reasonable, and then there is a time to be unreasonable. When you are ready to break out of the box and achieve something great in your business or career or in the world, it may be time to be unreasonable. Watch how freeing, empowering and inspirational unreasonableness can be.
Quote of the Week
“Homo sapiens, the only creature endowed with reason, are also the only creature to pin their existence on things unreasonable.” Henri Bergson
© 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.