How to Deal with Unreasonable Contrarians

A river without banks drifts calmly into oblivion.

Constraint makes the river powerful.



Tell teams what they can’t do and where they can’t go and they’ll get further, faster. This applies to how they treat unreasonable contrarians.

Unreasonable contrarian:

“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

The path to oblivion feels like home to reasonable people. They drift along like rivers without banks. Everyone gets along. But, the path to extraordinary is turbulent.

There’s hope if you have an unreasonable contrarian on your team.

Innovators don’t fit in because innovation is the result of not fitting in.

Difference, not sameness, ignites innovation.

If you want innovation, don’t manage unreasonable contrarians, release them.

Reasonable conformists:

Friction between conformists and contrarians is normal, predictable. Reasonable people reject the unreasonable.

Conformists – those who get along – complain about contrarians who don’t let the opinions of others control them.

I asked Malcolm Gladwell for advice on helping teams get along with their unreasonable members. He said, “Tell them to grow up. Deal with it.”

Don’t push out contrarians; invite them in.


Stability is the result of accepting what won’t change.

Establish constraints for conformists. Tell them what isn’t going to change. If you give them hope that they can expel contrarians, they’ll keep trying. Be kind, but tell them their efforts are futile. Establish banks for the river.

The hope of the future lies with unreasonable contrarians. Eventually, the reasonable destroy us all.

What about jerks:

A contrarian without a noble cause is just a jerk. Remove jerks. Embrace contrarians.

How have you dealt with unreasonable contrarians on your team?

**This post is inspired by a conversation/interview with Malcolm Gladwell. Buy Malcolm’s book “David and Goliath.”