First is wrong


Happy Birthday Nikola Tesla!. He’d be 156 if his age-freezing invention had been invented.

Sadly he’s no longer with us, but an invention of his is ultimately powering whatever device you’re reading this on, Alternating Current, which is what dribbles out of electrical sockets. As you can no doubt tell I only have a B in physics but I do know that he was ahead of his time and people around had to catch up.

In today’s post Seth Godin reminds us that,“He was ridiculed, marginalized and ignored. When the media or the experts or the public didn’t know what to do with the progress he pointed to, they shunned the messenger.

Tunis Craven, head of the FCC, said, “There is practically no chance that communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.” Craven said this three years before satellites were used to bring the Olympics to the US from Japan.

Craven or Tesla? I think it’s pretty easy to pick a role model.”

Or is it? Tesla had madcap genius on his side, you and I don’t. If we are first we aren’t likely to get our own Wikipedia entry. Being the first to do, say or think something doesn’t mean you’re right.

But it does mean there’s nobody else other than you doing, saying or thinking it, so most people will think you are wrong. If you are “first” in your organisation or part of it to get systems thinking and you reading this then you’ve probably also already read this.

But there’s worse.

What happens when everybody catches up? When the organisation goes systems thinking?
There probably won’t be the big ceremonial apology, the particular one I’ve imagined in my head involves a parade. Unlikely to happen, but what might happen is that nobody notices.

This thing here describes what happens when a “contrarian” view point becomes accepted, mainstream and eventually standard. The people who will be attached to the idea and successfully implement and further spread it are themselves much more likely to be accepted, mainstream and standard. Not you in other words. Probably anyway, I’ve checked around and although directors of public services, high ranking police and the odd professor may grace these pages, most likely you’re in IT or are some other office dwelling low-life like me.

This is to be expected. You’re (probably) not in charge and (probably) never will be, this is the onion patch after all.
If you want things to be better, you’ll have to become happy that the very same idiots you see doing and saying idiotic things now will be the same people (note their promotion from rank of idiot) doing and saying better and different things in some systemsy future heaven.

Like that article says, it depends whether you are happy with credit or influence.
Ronald Reagan had a sign on his desk saying “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit”. Easy for the President to say.

So, if credit and advancement is not on the cards, and it’s not, and you and i probably don’t care about that, then best get happy seeing other people say the things you do, but without the puzzled or withering looks in return. Be happy for them.

If you are a contrarian now, then you probably always will be. This is good as the world runs on weirdos.

Happy birthday Systems Thinkers!

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4 Responses to First is wrong

  1. Ben Thomas says:

    I sat in a meeting today and saw this with my own eyes. I then went back to my desk and wondered why we have a series of people, paid more than I’ll ever earn if the Mayans are 10 years close to right, in roles I’ll likely forever be overlooked for, who, using 2 laptops, 7 powerpoint printouts, some pretty swanky fonts and a telephone dial up to another country could not see the answers that a small minority of systems thinkers have been trying to draw their attention to for I don’t know how long.

    Why listen to a few plebs with the answers when you can fill a room with upper senior middle managers who don’t, but who have awesome fonts.

    Thank you. You have not put a light at the end of my tunnel but its nice to know that far more famous people than me have gone insane in the darkness.


  2. John Liddle says:

    The thing about knowledge is once you’ve got it you can’t unlearn it so, like it or not, if your knowledge has put you on the leading edge of a change then you are probably going to feel a little isolated at times.


  3. Pingback: Five Blogs – 17 July 2012 « 5blogs

  4. Pingback: 6 reasons why I will never be a team player | thinkpurpose

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