be unreasonable & disagreeable

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I have never been in an IKEA so I don’t know what the big deal is with them. But KC is about to get one so I suppose I’ll finally check it out when it opens.

I am currently reading David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants and I have been thinking about this excerpt about the IKEA founder a lot this week:

“…Crucially, innovators need to be disagreeable. By disagreeable, I don’t mean obnoxious or unpleasant. I mean that…they are people willing to take social risks – to do things that others might disapprove of.

That is not easy. Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings we are hardwired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative thought goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention.

A good example is the story of how the Swedish furniture retailer IKEA got its start. The company was founded by Ingvar Kamprad. His great innovation was to realize that much of the cost of furniture was tied up in its assembly: putting the legs on the table not only costs money but also makes shipping the table really expensive. So he told furniture that hadn’t yet been assembled, shipped it cheaply in flat boxes, and undersold all his competitors.

In the mid-1950s, however, Kamprad ran into trouble. Swedish furniture manufacturers launched a boycott of IKEA. They were angry at his low prices, and they stopped filling his orders. IKEA faced ruin. Desperate for a solution, Kamprad looked south and realized just across the Baltic Sea from Sweden was Poland, a country with much cheaper labor and plenty of wood. That’s Kamprad’s openness: few companies were outsourcing like that in the early 1960s. Then Kamprad focused his attention on making the Polish connection work. It wasn’t easy.

Poland in the 1960s was a mess. It was a Communist country. It had none of the infrastructure or machinery or trained workforce or legal protections of a Western country. But Kamprad pulled it off.

…But what is the most striking fact about Kamprad’s decision? It’s the year he went to Poland: 1961. The Berlin Wall was going up. The Cold War was at its peak. Within a year, East and West could come to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The equivalent today would be Walmart setting up shop in North Korea. Most people wouldn’t even think of doing business in the land of the enemy for fear of being branded a traitor. Not Kamprad. He didn’t care a whit for what others thought of him. That’s disagreeableness.

Only a very small number of people have the creativity to think of shipping furniture flat and outsourcing in the face of a boycott. And even smaller number have not only those kinds of insights but also the discipline to build a first-class manufacturing operation in an economic backwater. But to be creative and conscientious and have the strength of mind to defy the Cold War? That’s rare.”

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

My inner people-pleaser loves the example of the unreasonable “disagree-er.” What ways can I/we can disrupt the way the world goes about its business now? Where is the innovation waiting? (Because now it seems so obvious to sell furniture in flat boxes that you would assemble yourself, doesn’t it – it’s everywhere!)

This weekend, may your thoughts wander onto the new, innovative and unreasonable…

 

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