Compromise Kills Innovation!

The most innovative leaders of our time were mostly assholes. Why? They refused to budge on their idea. Everything in their body told them what needed to be done to make their idea happen, and they refused to compromise on even the smallest details. This is how greatness happens.

True change only happens when someone is unwilling to listen to their critics.

This is also the exact way more careers are killed than any others. It’s all or nothing. Greatness happens at the edges, not in the middle.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t fit well in most corporate environments. Most MBA programs don’t teach you to be a tyrant. Leadership development, in today’s corporate world, is about bringing everyone to the middle. Finding ways that we can all get along. Even suppressing those who push the envelope too far.

We want everyone to line up nice and pretty. To play the role they were hired to play. To be the poster children for compromise.

It’s important for leaders to understand this concept if your job as a leader is to drive innovation and change. You don’t drive this through compromise and you need some renegades on your team, that quite frankly you might not even enjoy being around.

It took me so long to learn this because I was a renegade as an employee. I couldn’t understand why my leaders kept pushing me to compromise when I knew the right way to do something, the better way to do something, the new way to do something.

Once I became a leader I acted the exact same way towards those who were like me. Get back in line. Run the play. Do what the others do. That was the leadership I was taught. I didn’t value those who seemed to be fighting me, just as I use to fight. New leaders struggle with this because we take it personally.

We feel like those renegade employees are actually fighting us. When in reality they’re fighting everything. It’s our job as leaders to understand that the fight they have is super valuable if directed at the right target! To get them to understand they don’t need to fight everyone and everything but pick some fights that help us all and then support that fight.

This isn’t everyone you lead. It’s actually a really tiny number, but it seems bigger because they take up a lot of time and cause a lot of commotion amongst the drones who want to stay in their box. But, this is how change and innovation are born. By one person who is unwilling to compromise because they know a better way and they’re willing to fight to make it a reality.

This isn’t to say it will always work. Most ideas fail, but those who are willing to make an uncompromising stand for their idea, stand a better chance of seeing that idea succeed.

Here’s where I struggle. If we believe the above premise is true, it seems exclusionary. So, can we be innovative and inclusive of thought all at the same time? I’m arguing above that you can’t. What do you think? Hit me in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Compromise Kills Innovation!

  1. This is so interesting. I’d absolutely kill to work somewhere where people don’t have an emotional attachment to their processes.

    I’m not sure about the inclusion aspect. It’s a balance. I’ve worked in places where the main focus is on keeping everyone happy, but what ends up happening is that nothing ever changes. Even when it desperately needs to. Everyone settles into a balance and then doesn’t touch it even 20 or 30 years later. That’s my worst nightmare.

    I’m not the right kind of renegade, because I’m also a horrible people pleaser. Maybe that’s conditioning. But I do know that people are more willing to accept a totally different idea when you acknowledge their idea first, point out a few good things about what they’ve said, and then kind of segue to the new idea. Find a part of their idea no matter how small, that you can highlight as awesome and relate it to their strengths in a new process. And give people small choices that help them retain some of their power.

    The people who want everything to stay the same–they aren’t really attached to processes themselves, as they are to feeling secure, and to having a predictable environment that they feel they have some level of control over. (Don’t tell them that though, they don’t know.) That’s not necessarily mutually exclusive to change.

    Not everyone’s ideas can be included, because this is real adult life and we’re going nowhere if we play the compromise game with EVERYONE. Or, we’ll go in a terrible direction.

    But anyone who’s ever done inpatient group therapy knows how to include everyone, even the people who are stuck to their ways in an extreme way, or people who make suggestions that are objectively harmful and NO we are not doing that.
    I’ve worked in psychiatric wards and I’ve worked in offices and it’s honestly a looot less different than you’d like to think, lol.

    It’s inclusion, but it isn’t really compromise. Because we have set goals and objectives here. I have no idea how well this relates to corporate. Just curious about it.

  2. Good post. The opposite could also be said: there are not enough startups that stick to the basic principles of taking their requirements from customers… and who are out to “change the world” on the back of their “visionary CEO” .

    The solution: have the CEO focus on the “why” / the mission / the values and let the product team put those concepts into wireframes while factoring the opinions and input of the users and customers.

  3. A lot of truth in this post. In the hiring process, we always say we want critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, etc. And once we get them – we expect them to toe the line. We think “doing the same thing but faster” is solving the problem. It isn’t.

    You can be innovative and inclusive at the same time. But it hurts. It’s hard. You have to remind yourself that you are attacking a process, and not a person. You attack the process. Not the people.
    The hard part? The people that currently do the process are emotionally tied to it and it sure feels like a personal attack to them.

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