Unreasonable Reasonableness

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."    

George Bernard Shaw

I have heard this saying most of my working life.  I cannot remember where or from whom I first heard it, but I’ll bet it was someone trying to justify their unreasonableness in a situation.

This thought is sometimes used to reframe unreasonable behavior as something more positive than it actually is.  Sometimes we are just trying to make our unreasonableness look better or convince ourselves that being unreasonable is a value in and of itself.

For example, have you ever worked with someone who just will not “play nice with others," but insists on acting on their perception of how things ought to be? With great pride, they will claim to be trying to achieve progress for the organization, but are actually just pushing their own agenda.

This type of workplace behavior can result in deep divisions within a team, isolation of a potentially valuable employee by others, or when the unreasonable person is the boss, a great deal of wasted time, energy, and resources.

If you have ever said to a coworker anything like “I tried to tell him/her, but he/she just would not listen." you may have experienced this situation. 

When can unreasonableness be of value?

  • When you attack a problem, and not a person
  • When you teach others what you know, so they change their perception of the problem
  • When you struggle to reach a goal that is inclusive rather than exclusive
  • When you spend minimal time griping about how others do not appreciate your genius
  • When the solution you seek does not benefit you personally, but changes someone else’s world for the better

Adapting to reality is not a negative thing … it is a survival thing.

Our ability to adapt to what we need to is essential for us to continue to live and thrive. Sometimes the reasonable thing to do really IS the most reasonable choice.  Adaptation can set the stage for deeper ultimate change and is essential in times of great uncertainty.  Most businesses that are surviving and thriving understand and practice the art of adaptation.

However, adaptability can be negative when one or more of the following are present:

  • We adapt without true change, outwardly compliant, inwardly entertaining emotions and thoughts which are incongruent with our external appearance and behavior.
  • We allow things to happen which we should face and change, such as inequality or exclusion. Sometimes we need to be unreasonable.
  • We hunker down and only see to our own comforts and survival, without considering our fellow travelers on the planet. While our personal environments are of necessity often foremost in our minds, we live in connection with others in our groups, our communities, and our world. 

Sometimes change only comes by openly confronting what is, to move to what could be …

Let me be clear …

Many battles have been fought, on the field and in the workplace, because someone did not want to accept the status quo and this is indeed a good thing … as long as the battle is being fought for the right reasons.

Progress does depend much on changing things as they are, while most want to keep up those same things or at least change very slowly … inertia is the enemy of true progress. I am not suggesting we never act up and promote change.

My point remains that the impetus for change should be the value of the change, rather than simple validation of one’s eccentricities or personal desires. The trick is to be able to clearly know when your unreasonableness is a positive force and when it’s just an ego trip for you.

When have you been unreasonable for a very good reason?

How do you tell when your unreasonableness is really reasonable?

This post is a revision of a post which was originally published on The Strategic Learner as Being Unreasonable on September 24, 2013.