George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man."
Eli Broad proudly counts himself among those world changers. His memoir, The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking dispenses rare and valuable wisdom. There is a certain worldliness to this book that makes you want to lean back and absorb it slowly, unlike other business titles where you have to lean in to separate wheat from chaff, and hunt for the practical takeaways.
The founder of two Fortune 500 companies (KB Home and SunAmerica) and a prolific philanthropist in the arts and medical research, Mr. Broad begins his thesis by making it clear that he is indeed an unreasonable man. He even got married because he was unreasonable. Reasonable people, he argues, come up with all the reasons something new and different can't be done.The Art of Being Unreasonable not only describes how Mr. Broad has become such a success by using unreasonableness as a guiding principle, but also the lessons anyone can take from his business, philanthropic and civic accomplishments, and apply them to their own lives.
Flee From Convention
Mr. Broad explains how to ask unreasonable questions, pursue the untried, relentlessly revise expectations upward, be restless and most importantly, seek out the best in everything—the best values, the best investments, the best people and the best in yourself. He also discusses valuable advice for approaching “unreasonable” decisions and ventures.
There's one common theme in all of Mr. Broad’s activities: he runs away from conventional wisdom at every opportunity, even as he has worked to make life better for people. Of course along the way, he’s been celebrated and criticized, but he insists, “You've got to be ready for that if you're going to do anything big.”
Find Room for Success
Among my favorite chapters is one entitled "The Value of Being Second," in which Mr. Broads tells us that "what you might call the first mover advantage always has been overrated and never more so than in the early years of the new digital economy." His advice, which is spot on: follow the smart first movers, because first movers always leave some room, you just need to find it. In addition to examples from KB Homes and SunAmerica, he cites Home Depot, long the giant of everything-under-one-roof hardware. "Then Lowe’s came along and managed to grab some market share by offering a distinct experience to their customers," he writes. "Smaller scale, better-organized stores and friendlier customer service."
Accept Only the Best
Another favorite is entitled "Is That The Best You Can Do?" The chapter delivers sound thinking about how to motivate employees by challenging them. When Broad hired Bruce Karatz, who would go on to become the chief executive of Kaufman and Broad, he issued him an assignment to write a report on some land the company was thinking of buying. Karatz obliged, and when he delivered the report, Broad immediately asked, “Is that the best you can do?” Karatz left to rewrite the report. Broad repeated the question for each of three rewrites, without reading them, until an exasperated Karatz replied, "Yes, that's the best I can do."
"Good," came Broad's reply. "Now I'll read it."
Matthew E. May is founder of EDIT Innovation, an ideas agency that helps simplify products, services, and process. Matt's new book, The Laws of Subtraction, will be published in October.
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