My dad used to call me “Donkey Number One” when I was a kid.
I know that may sound kind of mean, but that really wasn’t his intent. I was the oldest, and it was just his way of being (what he thought was) funny and probably trying to reign-in my overzealous imagination. Like sitting in a small closet pretending I was in a rocket ship, or trying to build a real robot when I was seven or eight (it was made out of wood boxes so heavy its legs wouldn’t support its own weight; and I must have thought it would “walk” by magic… since there were no motors.)
So yea, maybe that was kind of “donkey-like.”
Don’t get the wrong impression; my dad has always been a great guy. Everybody loves him, and I do too. He was the best man at my wedding.
Besides if I occasionally exhibited donkey behavior, well I’m not alone. There have certainly been a LOT of people who seem to do things that don’t make sense. Maybe occasionally you’ve done some seemingly non-rational things too. Maybe it’s not always bad.
Everybody likes to study what looks like winning behaviors. But for every right there’s a left, and you can surely learn a lot from those people that take a counterintuitive approach. In fact it’s the people that go against the grain, that were celebrated in the famous 1997 Apple “Here’s to the crazy ones” campaign.
Who knows what percentage of time people go against the prevailing wisdom and use a counterintuitive approach? But, you can be sure that sometimes, they… are… right.
It’s what inspired American poet Robert Frost when he wrote, “The Road Not Taken” wherein he considered two possible paths, one worn and the other nearly untrodden. Mr. Frost must have known something, as he was awarded four Pulitzer Prizes.
Here’s one real example of someone who did a lot of seemingly counterintuitive things. Let’s protect his identity at least until you guess who it is. Let’s call him “Mr. X.”
Lots of people lose money investing and starting companies. But “Mr. X” did it in a big way. “Mr. X” poured a boatload of money, including his own, by investing and starting companies that were outside the norm of what were generally accepted viable business ideas, and he did this with three atypical companies at the same time. The businesses were so outside the norm of what everyone else was doing, that experts in those industries often mocked his plans (maybe they secretly thought he was a donkey).
So, it wasn’t a big surprise to the naysayers when countless delays and continued expenses sped the companies towards bankruptcy. Still, he kept pouring his money into them until it was gone (nearly $200 million).
So, after one counterintuitive decision after another, he’d gone through his fortune, and even had to sell his car. Around this time his wife divorced him. He was repeatedly thrashed in the media.
So, there were lots of counterintuitive things that he did, including his take on the criticism. He was quoted as saying, “Always seek negative feedback, even though it can be mentally painful. They won’t always be right, but I find the single biggest error people make is to ignore constructive, negative feedback.”
Seeking negative feedback is certainly contrary to how most people feel.
In addition to “Accepting Criticism,” here are thirteen more counterintuitive things I’ve observed that can actually be good practices.
2. Put Yourself On the Line
Basically, almost NObody wants to be the one stuck with the big problem – ‘cause when it goes to hell in a handbag, they don’t want to be anywhere near it. Turns out, it was exactly 70 years ago, on October 2nd 2015, that a friend of President Truman’s made and mailed him the sign that remained on his desk that said, “The Buck Stops Here!” Seventy years later, and it’s still memorable because it’s counterintuitive.
3. Intrinsic Motivators Are More Important Than Extrinsic Motivator
You might think what drives people is money or power, but studies conclusively show the opportunity to collaborate, contribute and make a difference are much bigger motivations.
4. It’s OK To Be Wrong
It’s been drilled into us our entire lives that the right answer gets the points on the tests or in the corporate world. But the hard reality is, if you’re generally right all the time, you’re generally not reaching far enough.
5. It’s OK to Not Know The Answer
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “It’s OK to not know all the answers. It’s better to admit our ignorance, than to believe answers that might be wrong. Pretending to know everything, closes the door to finding out what’s really there.”
6. It’s OK to Be Different
Think about it, basically everyone who has accomplished a remarkable achievement is in fact different. This isn’t just about the mad genius artists, brilliant scientists or revolutionary industrialists. The quiet single parent that manages to successfully raise their children into productive, giving and loving adults – is also remarkable.
My dad likes to tell the story (ahem, repeatedly) about how a nun from my school called him in for a “private meeting” one day, wherein he was asked by the sister about the “evident trouble at home.” He had no idea what they were talking about, but the nun explained they could tell something was awry as my little brother (probably in 1st grade at the time) had used red and purple to color the trees and skies in his coloring book. My parents moved us into a public school the following year.
Forty some years later my brother had a cabin in rural Alaska, and painted it tangerine orange with red stripes. It looked cool as hell. Even the pilots flying overhead loved it. It was probably a message to Sister Thaddeus.
7. Listen More (Talk Less)
Hard to learn something new when you’re talking. William Ury is the cofounder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, author of seven books and has consulted for dozens of Fortune 500 companies (and the White House). He’s served as an advisor or mediator to corporate mergers, wildcat coalmine strikes and countries struggling with ethnic wars. In an excellent TED talk, Ury explains when you listen to someone, they’re more likely to listen to you.
8. Remain a Beginner/Student
There’s a great Zen Buddhism quote,
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Maybe that’s the simple reason so many amazing leaps are made by young minds – they didn’t know it couldn’t be done.
Get away from the constant interruptions resulting from being online. Turn off the external interruptions, tune in on your thinking.
10. Go With Your Gut
In an era when the business world is abuzz with metrics, data mining, analytics, etc etc…. sometimes you still have to simply trust your gut.
“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.” – Malcolm Gladwell
11. Sometimes Bozos Succeed
I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it.
12. Life is Not Fair
I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it.
13. Be Real
Often the tendency is to want to not look the fool. To look cool. To fake it ‘til you make it. But remember the words of Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss.
“Be who are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss
So, back to our example extraordinaire of counterintuitive things – “Mr. X.” Well, he persisted through the most difficult times, teetering for a time on financial ruin. Slowly, his companies started to gain traction and today “Mr. X” (you know him as Elon Musk) is CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla Motors and Chairman of SolarCity. Three companies that are revolutionizing their respective industries.
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.