I believe that all advances in the world have come from people who are contrarian by temperament. Think about it, if you agree with something, you’re not out to change it or improve it. Einstein completely understood classical physics, something that had existed as immutable “laws” since Isaac “Fig” Newton postulated them in the late 17th century. But Al was contrarian by not accepting what everyone else knew to be true. What resulted was a long mathematical formula that proved with certainty that a minute on a hotplate was longer than a minute with a pretty girl. So we got that…which is nice.
Do you think Steven Jobs was a guy that went along to get along? Though I haven’t read the book, I’ve heard enough to believe that Jobs didn’t go along whatsoever. How about Alexander Fleming? Anyone? Anyone? Fleming? No? Fleming pursued a solution that would help soldiers who had deep wounds that got infected during WWI where countless soldiers died from infection. His contrary nature believed the medical status quo was unacceptable. On Sept 28th,1928 he discovered penicillin.
How about William Wilberforce, the driver for getting Britain out of the slave trade. It took him 40 years of swimming upstream against economic and political currents to achieve the universal moral good of abolishing slave trade on British ships. Contrarian. Watch Amazing Grace, a terrific movie that captures his journey.
This Christmas a movie is coming out called “The Big Short”. The trailers look terrible because it’s the same trite story of the “little guy against the evil big bankers” played by the same old Hollywood PC posers. Gag. The story is about the mortgage meltdown of which I know a bit. The book by Michael Lewis is fantastic. He wrote Moneyball, The Blind Side, Liar’s Poker, and others. Very good writer. But The Big Short is about how contrarians made billions of dollars not accepting at face value what everyone else accepted. And that’s the point of this Letter – not accepting at face value what everyone else accepts.
This Letter is intended to be about business, that you should not completely go along to get along, that you shouldn’t swallow today’s “truths” as the way business is conducted, that you shouldn’t sit in your cubicle punching a clock in someone else’s game (tongue in cheek). The world isn’t done evolving yet. Mankind has a ways to go in becoming what it is capable of becoming. The company you work for is not perfect, and the role that you play can be bigger in ways that are hard to imagine. Imagine nonetheless.
In The Big Short, Lewis describes what I interpret as “Group Think”. Everyone in the industry thought someone else had thought this whole thing through. Everyone in the mortgage industry was just playing in a game that someone else had designed. No one person designs society’s games. “Reality” is a collective consciousness. As such, no one person has “Smart Money” or the inside track on how things are (Which is why conspiracy theories are a bit whacked). So often youthful (and not so youthful) perspectives range from naive perspectives (there are responsible people in the know controlling this, or God has this all in control) to cynical perspectives (there are irresponsible people in the know controlling this, or there is no God). I believe the truth is none of those above (although the God in control one is a worthy conversation). We are all so busy with our own lives and internal monologues that we buy into group think because we don’t have enough information, time, or perspective to do otherwise. And so it will always be for everyone. Everyone.
So what to do?
First, take comfort in the idea that you and everyone else are on the same playing field, all talking within your lonely cranium with limited data, limited time, and limited perspective. Second, believe that you are here to play an important role in something, that no one else has your particular vantage point. Third, understand that it is human nature to think as others do. It is comforting to be a part of a crowd. That’s ok. But have the ego, the strength, and commitment to be your own man. Eventually you will have lots of information to form an opinion of your own that isn’t just a summary of someone else’s. That takes time. But, fourth, in the meantime, have the ego to stand back from “the way things are” and evaluate what’s wrong (because there is plenty wrong). Group think is taking place within you and outside you and you can point out that the emperor has no clothes.
Is it possible to urge someone to be a contrarian? Who knows. But the worst case scenario here in this Letter is you work on becoming your own man.
To your continued success,