Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Management, Personal Development

The Danger of Being Reasonable


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We’re brought up to have an understanding of what is or is not “reasonable”. Is it reasonable to expect someone to help you for no financial reward? Is it reasonable to ask someone to complete something in half the usual time? Is it reasonable to request loyalty from employees or even customers? All such questions are a matter of opinion. But is it really good to be reasonable?

My point here is that ‘being reasonable’ is often the route to mediocrity. Little is ever accomplished or changed in this world by being reasonable. Perhaps what we consider to be reasonable is actually a measure of what we are prepared to accept without pushing the boundaries?

Years ago my wife and I signed up to attend a personal development course that involved attending an evening every two weeks in London. We lived about 40 miles outside London and had three young children. So when we were asked if we would commit to being there on-time, every time, and no excuses… we said what any reasonable person would say – “We’ll certainly try!”. We were challenged on this and asked why we wouldn’t simply say “Yes.”?

Our reason (and for ‘reason’ you can substitute the word ‘excuse’) was quite obvious – we live outside London and traffic is unpredictable and we might have trouble finding babysitters and they might be late and sometimes I might be needed at work late and… and… and… The course leader smiled politely and said something like “You certainly are good at finding excuses, but what I’m asking for is commitment – for you to be here on-time, every time, not merely to try.”. This was probably the first time I experienced someone calling me out on true commitment and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to say, because what we were being asked seemed so completely unreasonable.

After some further probing in which we were asked things like “Do you have any family?” and “Do you have any friends?” we were working through a series of excuses based upon it being unreasonable to ask family and friends to go out of their way to help us, simply because we would ask! Then the killer question – “If you asked family, friends or neighbours in a way that designed to result in them saying ‘yes’, what would happen?”. And further “If you told them that attending this course for the next twelve weeks is really important to you and you’d really appreciate their help and support… what would they say?”. We were forced to agree that, if we put it like that, just about all of them would say “yes”. Of course I still felt obliged to say “But that would be unreasonable!”.

If you wonder what the outcome was, members of our family left work early and travelled an hour to our house to look after our kids on each occasion we couldn’t get a local babysitter, and they were fine about it. In fact they were delighted to have the chance to do something for us, and to spend time with our kids too. And yes, the course was worth it – for teaching me the dangers of being reasonable if nothing else! I’ve learnt to be unreasonable with myself and with others. To ask the unreasonable questions and to gain extraordinary results.

In business when a client has achieved a respectable 10% year on year growth for several years, I’ll ask an unreasonable question “Why aren’t you achieving 25% year on year growth?”. Or if that’s not unreasonable enough, how about 200%? And when they’re the last people in the office at 9pm and all the staff went home at 5pm, I’ll ask why they aren’t asking their staff to be there late?

Next time you catch yourself being reasonable, stop, and ask the unreasonable, especially of yourself.

“Reasonable men adapt to the world around them; unreasonable men make the world adapt to them. The world is changed by unreasonable men.”- Edwin Louis Cole

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