Modern Contrarianism

One of my original “brands” was as “the contrarian.” For example, at the height of the quality movement, I preached that quality could be taken to a dysfunctional extreme, actually costing more money than necessary. I remember at one point wading into a “lean” project at a client where secretaries were being asked to rearrange the contents of their desks. They thought it was stupid, and so did I.

At another point I was watching a plant manager and his top lieutenants walk around the manufacturing floor listening to operators explain their fishbone diagrams and Venn charts about productivity, while I observed machines leaking oil onto the floor. When I pointed this out to a vice president, he said, “Not now, never interrupt the reporting.”

That was easy. But there’s a difference being a contrarian today. My current positions are:

• Stop crying about small airline seats when you’re eager to get rock bottom prices to fly overseas. Make up your mind if you want comfort or savings, the airlines do not owe you both.

• The contrarian position today is good customer service! Most companies use customer service phone lines and email as a means to divert complaints and feedback into black holes and to insulate executives. The result, of course, is Sears and GE, where clueless executives ruined the business. “This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes” is the most often told lie daily.

• We need to stop creating heroes. Steve Jobs was a genius at creating a technological community of consumers who swore (and swear) by products designed to improve their lives. But he was a horrible boss, manager, husband, and father, who was often divorced from reality. Would you want your daughter to marry him? Elon Musk is basically a con man using other people’s money, inventing a useless “submarine” for the Thai rescue just to get publicity, and then calling one of the expert divers who pointed this out a “pedophile.” He’s also screamed at questions during investors’ meetings, because there is no “there” there. We don’t need false heroes, we need true leaders.

• Stop blaming the politicians, you elected them. They didn’t stage a coup. In Rhode Island, over a third of the legislature is running unopposed in November. In the last general election, over 40 million—40,000,000—registered voters didn’t vote! We all get the kind of government we deserve, especially if our position is that anyone who disagrees with us is an inferior.

• If something is wrong with your life, fix it. Stop whining. It’s not your mother’s fault.


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