Celebrating the Unreasonable Life

In my earlier days as a rookie social entrepreneur, I was on a mission. I had a purpose I held so close to my heart, I wore it on my sleeve. I lived it through waking hours and sleep. The mission was to build community around the life event we will all face one day - death.  My team amplified what was once a tiny spark into a blazing fire of debate, disruption, annoyance by the ‘system’, and we created and contributed to the wave of paradigm shift in how we view end of life and how we care for those facing that stage of life with a terminal diagnosis. Tough gig. No-one really wants to talk about death, not in a society where the dominant culture continues to be death avoiding. But we created enormous change, engaged thousands across the country in a movement and began to set a different culture.  Some would have said it unreasonable to even attempt it, and for what purpose? We had a hunch, although it was steeped in evidence. Eighty percent of people want to die at home given the option, in comparison to the only 14% who actually do die at home, and a person dies every three minutes in Australia, so this life event is potent with potential to build social capital, deepen community engagement and bring people together in intimate, real, courageous and spiritual connection - just what the world needs more of - right?

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “the reasonable [person] adapts themselves to the world, whereas the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to themselves. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”. Unreasonable might actually be more familiarly seen and judged as crazy even, especially when outliers, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are busy doing what they do best - pushing against the status quo, especially when there is a better way. If there’s a better way for better social and environmental outcomes, then surely we need to champion and support the crazies!

Following a brilliant keynote address I heard her deliver in 2009, Pamela Hartigan gave me a copy of the book she co-authored with John Elkington, published through Harvard Business Press, The Power of Unreasonable People. She wrote a note inside to me, ‘may you have a rewarding and unreasonable life’.  The gist of the book is how social entrepreneurs create markets that change the world.

We’re so conditioned to behave and communicate in a certain way. We follow a set of norms and rules, most of us rarely question them. The same goes with our businesses – from the culture we set, to the communication we engage in.

A beautiful question to ask ourselves. How can I be more unreasonable? What assumptions have I had my entire life that see me living a smaller life than the one that’s actually possible? What does it take to challenge those assumptions, and what would it look like, what might we find if we cast our ideas and thinking nets far and wide, rather than maintain reason at all times?

The unreasonable ones are unlikely going to be the governance people on your Board, they might not even the CEO, but the CEO was once perhaps the unreasonable one. It’s often from being unreasonable that new frontiers are crossed. Think of the courageous ones who have discovered new ground, achieved the impossible. To the conservative safe players they probably were seen as unreasonable, or even quite loopy! But what if unreasonable is the fertile ground where innovation, creativity, collaboration and discovery take place? In your organisation, what beautiful questions might you be asking - is there a market you could forge that you haven’t yet identified because you’re stuck in the chasm your repetitive same thinking has created?

Even if we don’t become totally unreasonable, some things you could try to enliven your life and/or your business:

  • At times give yourself and/or your teams the space to burst through the constraints of the “this is just how it’s always been done” mindset. Shake it up - inject new experiences and process into the day to day and see what happens

  • Get curious - build a mindset for yourself or a culture for your workplace that is open, curious, enquiring, playful and non-judgemental

  • Test your own assumptions, judgements, boundaries and see how far you can push them - ask yourself some more beautiful questions along the way - like, “what do I need to stop doing to live a bigger life?”, or “what is the question I’m not willing to ask myself to grow and expand”?

  • Be courageous to speak of your dreams for change, and bring your purpose to life through everything you do – you may be a high performance coaching company, but if your deepest desire is to change the drinking and drug-taking culture in sport, THIS is an aspiration others will want to join you in, bring them on THAT journey with you

Put your purpose up front, centre, core. Communicate only from that foundation. Aspire to something larger than yourself, sales and profits. Inspire from that place. Be brave. Be courageous. Be unreasonable.

May the unreasonable force be with you.

Mel Greblo

Melanie Greblo