Please All, and You Will Please None

Happy New Year to you! I wish you an amazing 2017. Some people make a list of resolutions at the beginning of every new year. Whether you make a list or not, starting the new year is a good time to reflect.

Last year I saw a lot of conforming and pleasing others; lots of consensus. To transform one must step out of their comfort zone, that includes organizations. This rarely happens, a very powerful reason is the need to please others via consensus: the need for consensus is a common innovation challenge inside organizations.

This a particular challenge to for all non-innovators. Fitting in, fear of rejection, is built into human nature. Some of us are immune to fear, but most are not. When it comes to innovation, challenging the status quo is where it starts.

I’m a big fan of Aesop’s Fables, the wisdom embedded in the short stories is refreshing. For example, as it relates to consensus, The man, the boy and the donkey fable teaches us that we’ll please none by trying to please all:

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market.

As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way.

But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself.

But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey.

By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them.

The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.

The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?”

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do.

They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders.

They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole.

In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them: “Please all, and you will please none”

Reject the need to please everyone and you’ll open the door to transformation

Aesop knows what he’s talking about. The Man in the story is most everyone on a daily basis; they just don’t know it. Aiming to please everyone is an innovation killer. You kill consensus by having a strong point of view. Great leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders inspire by provoking and polarizing. Mediocre leaders, on the other hand, are afraid of rejection.

The real challenge of leadership is changing before you have to; pleasing everybody is an obstacle to that.

Bottom line: Pleasing everybody is the safest path to mediocrity.

Also published on Medium.