The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot. Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)
Mark Twain surely had just had a bad day in the office when he wrote the above. Surely he was irritated by those people coming along knowing nothing and disturbing everybody. Perhaps he had just been told that his new boss had been parachuted from a completely different part of the company dealing with business 180 degrees from his. I don’t know, but, boy, he was irritated.
Actually that quote starts with a paragraph before: ‘There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can’.
But with all respect to Mr Twain, we, in management, today, need some versions of the ‘ignorant antagonist’ coming to the party, because we spend most of the time worrying about the next best swordsman, and when he comes along, we continue as before with zero imagination.
If I had to choose an ‘ignorant antagonist’, I’d like the following.
I’d like he/she to be smart, so the ignorant bit applies to the topic of the business but not to anything else.
I’d like him/her to be respectful
I’d like him/her of course to asks lots of why, like a 3 year old
I’d like him/her to challenge the status quo, but not for the sake of doing it, but to uncover the hidden possibilities
I’d also like him/her not to be politically correct so that him/her does not need to go around splitting the him/her stuff.
Bring the aliens. Ask them to look and see and feel and smell and make a judgement. A good, good, expert is the one who welcomes the aliens, not the one who is afraid of them, or irritated by their presence.
In politics, we have the impossible hope of ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’. In management, we have in many cases people who have been responsible for the growing of messy processes, who are now doing a process reengineering on their own upsetting all roles and jobs. Will they vote for Christmas? sometimes I wonder.
We need smart aliens to join the (management) party.