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Be Unreasonable

Driving The VolvoImage by PhotoDu.de via Flickr

Sitting behind the steering wheel of a car seems to warp our thinking and thus, our behavior. Remember George Carlin's reflection, "Have you ever noticed? Anybody going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac." What is it about driving that seems to suck all of the good sense out of us?

Take this scenario: you're driving down Interstate 80 in Central Iowa and you see an orange sign with a merge left symbol: "Road Construction. Five Miles Ahead." What do you do? Given the thinking of some drivers at this point, the reasonable thing to do is to start moving over into the left lane. So they do.

Three miles later, an orange sign appears: "Right lane closed two miles ahead." What do you do? Lots of drivers at this point definitely think the reasonable thing to do is to immediately move over into the left lane...now! So they do.

It must seem reasonable. But does it make sense? And what if, instead of being reasonable, they chose to be "unreasonable"?

You're at that second orange sign. Want to raise the ire of hundreds of fellow travelers? Just stay in the right lane and drive two more uninterrupted miles to the merge point. Now, you can expect a struggle to merge left at this point, and maybe even a few raised middle fingers. Because you've been "unreasonable" and somehow they think you've broken a law and are getting by with it!  That never sits well with the masses.

What's going on here? It doesn't make sense to start queuing-up two miles before you have to, leaving one whole lane devoid of traffic. And yet, because of some sort of herding instinct, people do just that, engaging in behavior that  to them seems reasonable. It must also seem reasonable -- and justified -- to punish others who've simply shown good sense.

I was in Minnesota a few weeks ago and notice that to counteract this herding tendency, the state's department of transportation actually posts signs several miles out from construction sites that say, "Use both lanes during backups." In other words, "Resist the urge to be reasonable. Don't merge now. Keep driving. DRIVE! DRIVE! DRIVE!"

I wonder if this phenomenon ever shows up in the workplace? As a leader in your organization, do you ever jump on board whatever is the popular position, at the first sign of a confrontation up ahead, rather than staying the course for a little while contemplating various courses of action and really considering whether being "reasonable" is what makes the most sense here? 

  • Not "what have we done before"?
  • Not "what do we assume our customers will expect of us"?
  • Not "what will keep our employees from being mad at us, and giving us the proverbial finger"?

"Reasonable people," said George Bernard Shaw, "adapt themselves to the world; the unreasonable ones persist in trying to adapt the world to themselves. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable."

Be a true leader. Prepare to be unreasonable. And next time, keep driving!

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