Cause Without a Rebel?
It's been a while since I visited Scott Berkun's blog, so I thought I'd meander over and catch up on some posts (yeah, yeah, I know, Mike Sansone will be blasting me later for not using a feed reader to do this).
I really didn't like what I saw, though, on the last post. He starts out well enough by referencing Anil Dash's post: A Malcolm and a Martin. The Cliff's Notes version for those who don't want to link over there is that you need both a radical and a rational to truly effect change. Somebody to stir the pot and bring attention to the issue, and a calming force to bring logic and grace to the situation. Sort of a good cop-bad cop mentality. (Dash also mentions ego as a hindering force for change, something I've also commented on here.) And Berkun disagrees, taking the "kindler, gentler" approach to getting attention for change. Now, I'm all for civility, but I really think that's where US business has gotten itself into trouble. We have too many people who only want to be "nice" at the expense of being "radical." Dash is right... it's not either-or... both roles play a part in balance with each other.
In projects and in life, you need those people who will challenge the status quo with reckless abandon. And you need those people who will calmly assess the status quo against the proposed changes, analyzing and logically weighing the alternatives to provide solutions. It's about balance, but it's also about tension. Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. did a lot for the Civil Rights Movement. And one has to admit that there was synergy - intended or not - between their approaches. Was there tension between the two camps and philosophies? Sure. Did that tension undermine their effectiveness? Hardly. The projects I've observed that have been the most controversial yet successful are those who have the PHE (Passionate Hippie Evangelist) factor, the person who stands on the desk and yells "O Captain, my Captain!" Granted, you can be a radical without being rude or violent (which may have been Berkun's point), but you need to have the passion and the fire in your belly or you can kiss the change good-by (if it was ever a change WORTH fighting for in the first place).
Berkun is in the process of writing a book about innovation. I hope he clarifies this issue before he publishes. History's great innovators were revolutionary radicals, people who put their professional reputations on the line to stand up for what they believed.... noted scientists, authors, and entrepreneurs. (Note to Scott: If you're reading this, I'm not trying to "pick a fight." Maybe we agree and are just using the same terms in different contexts. I invite you to help me better understand your position. After all, that's what blogging is about, right?)
Lastly, there's a term for those who work on projects without radicals, who have a cause without a rebel: Zombie.