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Visionary or crackpot, change agent or disruptor. What’s the difference?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

I’m co-authoring an article for a prestigeous magazine with a colleague who has followed my work for years. Now that he’s retired, he’s happy to buck the system and introduce my material, which flies in the face of the commonly accepted precepts of his field of change management, systems, and OD.

This man has watched while his field has reviled me, ignored me, and found me crazy. He was even in a group that denied me acceptance because they didn’t like the way I dressed (too sophisticated). True story: that’s what they said. My friend was quite embarrassed at the time, but was unable to sway the ‘judges.’

As we start our new collaboration, the big question is: “What has stopped me from publishing in this magazine before now?” We both knew the answer: My work has not been acceptable because it goes against the field’s beliefs. Is it now time? We don’t know the answer. But if we’re going to try, we know we have to walk a line between making it palatable for the masses while not discarding my innovative precepts.


That all brings up a larger question that has no real answer: Why is it that so many creative geniuses end up dead, with one ear, before they are recognized? What is the difference between them and those who thought they were visionaries, and died without leaving any mark at all? And how do some visionaries get recognized – albeit after a decade or two – while still alive?

We know that change creates defense: not because of the proposed change itself, but because of the system of rules and relationships and expectations and assumptions that get built around the status quo to keep it in place so it can function.

In the field of sales, objection handling, closing techniques, prospecting programs are a few of the work-arounds created to make up for a failed model – with the assumption that they are necessary (as is the lower-than-necessary close rate). Over the past 20 years, my clients have not had to handle objections, their prospects closed quickly and with no techniques, and a higher percentage of prospects were vetted appropriately.

Magic? No – we just added the missing pieces to the sales model and the problems disappeared. But it goes against the accepted ‘wisdom’ in the field and hence unacceptable for over 20 years.

I always found it funny when my clients’ colleagues looked at what we were doing, and found it ‘crazy’ as we closed 800% more than them (we were obviously ‘lucky’). But they would rather scorn and deride rather than be curious. They were safe in their mediocrity. Plus they had the numbers on their side: everyone else shared their problems.

I once sat next to a lovely young man on a plane. He said he was going to meet a prospect and offer himself for free for two weeks as a gesture of good will. “Sounds like a marketing ploy to get him to need you. What would he know after two weeks that he doesn’t know now? And why aren’t you helping him and his decision team figure out how to buy you?’

“You sound like the woman who wrote this great book I just read about helping buyers buy,” he said. I didn’t tell him it was me! “I took the book to my boss and told him I wanted training, and my boss said the woman was a crackpot and didn’t know how to sell, and never use her concepts in his sales organization.”

That’s the deal with change agents and visionaries. We are disruptors. We make it necessary for something new to enter, usually at the expense of uprooting the old and making the old seem almost irrelevant. Are we crazy? Of course. Crazy because we are willing to take the hit and buck the system and be ignored or made fun of or put down by those that are part of the accepted norm.

But the saddest part is that some visionaries aren’t able to hold on long enough to get their thinking into the mainstream. And it’s so so so dark for so many years, with absolutely no guarantee that the world will accept the proposed change. And we are absolutely nuts for hanging on to a dream – sometimes with no money, certainly often with no feedback –  that the world really can be a better place.

I wonder how well people well-known in the mainstream can entertain possibility for those of us with really good, albeit different, ideas?


I propose that everyone take on Buddhist precepts. I propose that we all enter every moment with Beginner’s Mind, with everything possible, and everyone worthy of respect.

There are think tanks that run ideation sessions for companies to be in proximity to brains that think out of the box. Why can’t we all start our day with wonder, waiting for the next new thing, and then the next, and then the next? Why can’t we search for new ideas? Why not have a website devoted to innovative ideas?

Imagine if folks got curious over the last 20 years when I mention that buying facilitators  perform between 400-800% over the control group using ‘sales.’  The entire field of sales would have changed 20 years ago, and we would be operating entirely different companies: with fewer sales people, less travel expense, different marketing, and far more revenue, and products and services much more matched with customer’s needs.

Imagine if innovators were seen as folks to be respected and treasured – when they are thinking their new ideas, not when they have finally been ‘recognized’ and their ideas BECOME the mainstream.

Imagine. Then look around for some innovators that you can offer a hand to. It might just be the beginning of a new idea.


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