By Manny Roman
I recently became aware of this quote from George Bernard Shaw: “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.”
At first, I thought this was a great statement explaining the birth of all progress and innovation. I had a found affirming words from a renowned writer to something that I believed. For a very long time, I have been convinced that children who are obedient to rules, regulations and directives will be well-suited to function within the constraints of adulthood and business. As children they may be provided limited freedoms of mind and body. Those who are unruly and willful would be the entrepreneurs and the creators of the jobs that the other group would occupy. They would either be provided with the mentioned freedoms or would just take them. This is, of course, within reason. Some of these kids from both groups wind up in jail.
Then, I thought about the words that were used in the quote and had a little more difficulty with the statement. I am confident that the literal translation would not achieve the intended meaning by Mr. Shaw. The words “reasonable and unreasonable” are antonymous and, in this case, would keep a “reasonable” man from causing progress and an “unreasonable” man from adapting to norms.
However, I extract great meaning from Mr. Shaw’s insightful quote. For the sake of my explanation, I will call the “reasonable” man Joe and the “Unreasonable” man John. Joe mostly follows the rules and does not want to rock the boat unless a significant event occurs. John is more restless always observing and imagining how things could be different. There are probably more Joes in the modern world because there are more restrictions and constraints as children. Joes find an easier transition to adulthood and employment. The Johns also find a way to adapt however they are more inconvenienced by the constraints.
During my many years in life and business, I have seen many Joes and many Johns as I am sure you have. Joes are the quiet ones at the meetings. They will only dissent if an issue is of great importance to them otherwise, they go with the flow. Joes methodically perform their assigned tasks without questioning the mission or the authority. Joes are the good followers that “leaders” often praise as necessary for accomplishment of the mission.
Johns are more participative in nature. In meetings they ensure that their opinions are heard and even enjoy differences of opinion. Johns seem to always look for ways to think differently about things as well as to do them differently. The really courageous Johns may question the mission itself. Problems become challenges. This reminds me of something I once heard. “What does one do when there’s no way out of a situation? If there’s no way out, the best thing is to find a way further in.”
These behaviors are not mutually exclusive as implied by Mr. Shaw’s quote. The behaviors are on a continuum and at any given time Joes can be Johns and vice versa. Significant emotional events can push us to extremes, however, each one of us has tendencies toward a Joe or a John.
I believe that there is no requirement for a special innate talent to be either. We all have talents and tools that we use every day in everything we do. Since we are speaking of behaviors, they can be learned. What is important is to identify where we live on the “JoeJohn Scale” and determine if we are content there. If not, we can take steps to slide in the desired direction.
We may not all be in the position to change the entire world; however, we are all in the position to aid and even cause progress. It does not matter if we are the leader or the follower. Even small improvements in our professional and personal environments cause efficiencies and satisfaction. I don’t place Joe and John one above the other. I do recommend that in the personal development aspect we should all be looking for ways to cause progress toward the enhancement of self-happiness. So, I guess, in this case be a John.
Manny Roman, CRES is the AMSP Business Operation Manager.