Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Who’s a Troublemaker?

It was my day to volunteer at Thomas’ school, and I found myself horning in on a conversation between two other folks who were talking about the challenges schools face keeping advanced students engaged and how sometimes these students will develop behavioral issues out of boredom. One said to the other “It sounds like you’re speaking from personal experience,” and his companion nodded. So I said, jokingly, “Oh____, were you a troublemaker?” And he said “Yes, and I still am.” To which I thought “Ah hah! I knew it!” Because you see, it takes one to know one.

It is my fervent belief that every good organization needs at least one troublemaker, and two or three is even better. Why? Because troublemakers are not easily satisfied with the status quo. Trouble-makers are constantly thinking about ways to improve processes and procedures, and they are always questioning current schools of thought (no pun intended), because they love a good argument, enjoy the mental stimulation that comes from exposure to completely new ideas or new ways of looking at old ideas, and most of all, have high standards and take pleasure in the pursuit of excellence.

I don’t know why troublemakers get such a bad rap. In general, greatness isn’t born out of a slavish adherence to the tried and true, and it certainly isn’t born out of a mulish resistance to new ideas and differing view-points. But perhaps it’s as author Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great—the biggest obstacle to great is good. “It’s good enough!” they say. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they say. And if only they were right! But too often the truth is that it’s way broke, but everyone is so used to the six-hundred and ninety-five work arounds in place they’ve lost sight of the brokenness.

How I’ve often wished I could be one of those people who go to work, quietly do exactly as told, go home, and forget all about it until the next morning. Life would be so much easier. But I’m not built that way. If you’re not learning and growing, you’re dying as far as I’m concerned, and that goes for individuals and organizations. 

On a regular basis, a good friend of mine has to remind me how much most people hate change, because I’m inclined to forget and then get frustrated when a new idea or initiative is met with severe resistance of the unreasonable kind. The kind that causes some folks to call me a troublemaker. The label is not really fair, but I’ll own it anyway because it’s much better than some others like “mediocre,” “complacent,” “apathetic,” or even the seemingly positive “content.”  There’s a time for contentment, and there’s definitely a danger in never being able to gain satisfaction. But a “troublemaker” is not someone who can never be satisfied—he’s someone most likely to gain satisfaction when his brain is actually turned on, which is the kind of “trouble” organizations need and should welcome.

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