Here’s how: Start from zero. Shut up and listen. Ask and learn. Play dumb, then get smart.
In short, do everything that Polly Labarre tells you to do.
The best-selling author of Mavericks at Work, Labarre offered a seven-step “maverick manual for success” at the 2015 Xerocon conference in Denver. Each step alone is worth its weight in gold. Put ‘em together and we can change the world.
Here they are:
1. Stand for something.
“Stop thinking about what keeps you up at night,” Labarre said. “Focus instead on what gets you out of bed in the morning.” What’s your purpose? What ideas are you fighting for? Perhaps most important, are you the person you say you are?
2. Lead without authority.
In today’s world, “we” are smarter than “me.” Labarre says we’re governed today by an entirely new set of organizing principles:
Are you ready to cede control to your community?
3. Do the work of art.
This is largely a trial-and-error process, Labarre says. She calls it the “arithmetic of innovation”: 1,000 ideas yield 100 experiments, which yield 10 projects, which yield one home run. The short version is this: Be wrong as fast as possible. ”Pain is temporary,” Labarre said, channeling Pixar, “but suck is forever.”
4. Learn as fast as the world is changing.
Faster, in fact. MACPA Executive Director Tom Hood says those who succeed going forward will be able to outlearn the pace of change. Labarre puts it a slightly different way. “Want to learn fast? Hang out with people who aren’t like you,” she says, adding, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that really counts.”
5. Ask more questions, give fewer answers.
Questions are more powerful than certainty, Labarre said, because they are the antidote to hubris. “Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut as much as possible,” she said.
6. Practice dissent.
Encourage a contrarian point of view. Pretend that we don’t know what we already know. “What if I started with a clean sheet of paper?” Labarre asked. That might be the best question I’ve ever heard.
7. Rock the boat … but don’t tip it over.
Futurist Sheryl Connelly might put it this way: It’s one thing to be provocative. It’s another to stay employed. Balance the two.
When push comes to shove, though, Labarre said we should aim for the unusual.
“Today, it’s the irregular people who do irregular things that generate irregular success,” she said. “The best activists ask really big, seemingly impossible questions, find co-conspirators, and take action.”
So quit thinking you know it all. You don’t. If you want answers, you have to ask better questions.
When we stop knowing and start learning, we grow … and we help others grow in the process.