Rules of Engagement: Lessons from Lessons

When Fast Company came out with its 96 lessons for 2013 from leaders across the business spectrum, I expected to find a stereotypical list of lifestyle changes and recommendations for self-improvement. However, I was pleased to find a micro-collection of creative advice – snippets of experiential wisdom – that were geared more toward their approach as opposed to their practice. For example, CEO Randi Zuckerberg’s lesson is: “Anger Equals Engagement – Don’t be afraid to take risks that other people are going to call you out on. It’s better to elicit passion than a lukewarm response.”

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While this advice is for up and coming entrepreneurs, as a historian, its hard not to consider the contemporary context and the broader social applications.

Many people are afraid to put their ideas out into the public domain because they fear their ideas will get criticized, shot down, or even worse, ignored. They might fear being personally challenged, called out, mocked or humiliated or dread the idea of having to defend their beliefs in public to people who may disagree. Yikes! So, they tone down their thinking by wrapping it in some familiar rhetoric or they choose to “not go public” with it. They nod and pretend to agree so they can comfortably retreat from potential conflict or confrontation, not wanting to piss anyone off.  This practice of “playing it safe” comes at a cost. It reduces the amount of exchange that occurs in the marketplace of ideas. Some people opt out of the conversation – dead silence, no voice. Others allow the conversation to be framed by the so-called “smartest people in the room,” who eventually come to monopolize the ideas. Others convert their potentially interesting thinking into boring vanilla. Boring and vanilla elicit a lukewarm response because it’s boring vanilla

This tedium decreases the possibility that they will be called out, criticized, or humiliated.  However, it does not engage anybody.  For example, the writer isn’t engaged in the piece they are writing and the reader is not engaged with the boring prose that are sitting in front of them. In the age of NSA eavesdropping, social media, and drone attacks the stakes may seem a little higher for the risk averse.

But as Zuckerberg suggests, don't be afraid to take risks. It is better to elicit a response.  It is better to make people angry.  It is better to stimulate conversation and discussion, than simply receive a lukewarm response.  Many of us forget this, even in our day-to-day lives; passion equals engagement. Even anger engages people.

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