Who’s the cynic?


What’s worse?

A dreamer or a cynic?

Seth Godin posted his answer to that question last week. And got it all wrong.. So wrong, that here it is in full.

Let’s see what he has to say…

The selfish cynic

Cynics are hard to disappoint. Because they imagine the worst in people and situations, reality rarely lets them down. Cynicism is a way to rehearse the let-downs the world has in store–before they arrive.

And the cynic chooses this attitude at the expense of the group. Because he can’t bear to be disappointed, he shares his rehearsed disappointment with the rest of us, slowing down projects, betting on lousy outcomes and dampening enthusiasm.

Someone betting on the worst outcomes is going to be correct now and then, but that doesn’t mean we need to have him on our team. I’d rather work with people brave enough to embrace possible futures at the expense of being disappointed now and then.

Don’t expect kudos or respect for being a cynic. It’s selfish.

I dislike this intensely.

I’ve been thought a cynic at work for years, I take an interest in who calls me it and when.

It is when I try to describe why something is not as it seems.

I’ve learnt that face value is often wrong. If you dig behind facades more often than not there is a much more interesting reality. As Seth correctly points out, it never lets you down. How could it? It’s reality Seth!
What could trump reality? Booze? Good fiction? I’ve never had occasion to use either at work.

A while ago a colleague told me they felt they were becoming cynical due to conversations with me about targets and customer service standards and the like. She told me she didn’t believe people in call centres any more when she had to speak with them about an order or a complaint, as she could see behind what was being said to what was actually going on.

She said that when she heard Ministers explaining or justifying the latest reported disaster in a hospital, she wasn’t agreeing with what they were saying, and was thinking instead, “hang on, you put the inspection regime and targets in place, don’t blame other people for reacting to it”. She described her new reaction as ‘cynical‘. I think she’s being hard on herself. And incorrect.

Is it in fact something like this?

“When a culture doesn’t know how to think critically, then all critical thinking is viewed as cynicism, and disagreement is viewed as hate.”

Then there are the The Rules Of Work. Look at number 2.

rules Copy (1)

What’s going to fit best in a typical organisation that operates by these unspoken rules? An inane positivity that supports the system that bred it?

So, back to that riddle at the top of this post.

What’s worse?

A dreamer or a cynic?

What’s the answer…

NEITHER! And both

The answer is someone who doesn’t learn. Regardless of their optimism or pessimism, I think not changing your mental model based on a good look at reality surrounding you, THAT’S cynicism.

Opting for the most agreeable or amenable mental model is the true cynicism. Surrendering your brain to a vote of popularity is the ultimate cynical act.

Sorry Seth you got it wrong. Let’s rewrite Seth.. The last line anyway.

“Don’t expect kudos or respect for going along with the majority opinion. It’s selfish as only you benefit.

This entry was posted in command and control, learning, psychology, purpose, systems thinking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Who’s the cynic?

  1. bulldozer00 says:

    Cynics unite! 🙂


  2. HawVie says:

    What happened to ‘being realistic’ instead of going with the flow or being a cynic…?


  3. ThinkPurpose says:

    Reblogged this on thinkpurpose and commented:

    It’s an old one, but I’d forgotten the RULES OF WORK CLUB so here it is. Again.
    It’s highly suspect to re-blog yourSELF but hey ho.
    FOUR YEARS I’ve been doing this!


  4. plexity says:

    A part of the problem is diminished vocabulary. I’ll admit I’m struggling to recall the term that would be more apposite than cynic. Didn’t misanthrope cover this meaning, at least partially? Get thee to a thesaurus. BTW, I totally agree with you. Seth needs the thesaurus.


  5. Frank Wood says:

    Here’s a proverb that might be considered cynical but has tons of common sense.

    “Only trust those that you don’t need to trust.”

    And from the world of Cybernetics

    “The purpose of a system is what it does.”

    Both these sayings have saved my sanity over the years – not to mention my job and/or the success of projects I’ve been on!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s