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The Iconoclastic Thinker

The Iconoclastic Thinker

Tonight, I was corresponding in real time with a friend back in the States. We have known each other for several years and she wrote and told me she felt like an “outcast”. Now, I know this lady well. Our e-mails number in the hundreds, if not the thousands over the years. She came to Thailand to study with me for a five day Master Thinker program. She is a doctor who lost her practice, her spouse, house and all her worldly belongings because she stood up for people. She took on the entire health care system single-handedly and was a whistle blower. They sought to destroy her but couldn’t ever diminish her spirit. She has been a source of inspiration for me since before I met her. They even made a movie about her but it only served to make her more of a target. She is an iconoclastic thinker. I will not use her name in this article because she has been targeted enough.

I immediately wrote her back the first thing that came to my mind. “The iconoclastic thinker is always an outcast. I use the stones that others throw at me for batting practice. It improves my focus, aim, accuracy and distance.”

Most great leaders in virtually every field are iconoclastic thinkers. Most managers are not. Most managers urge their people to “think outside the box!” What they don’t tell then is, “Don’t think outside mine!” For the iconoclastic leader, there are no boxes. They simply do not exist. A few examples? Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Copernicus, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and many, many more. We are surrounded by them but, instead of listening to them, we are usually the ones casting stones.

Iconoclastic thinking is not just the domain of leaders and here is where it gets really interesting. An iconoclastic thinker is anyone who thinks upstream while everyone else around him or her is relaxing on their inner tubes of perception and idly floating downstream. They can be a teacher, a parent, a friend, an enemy or even the smallest child.

Have you ever felt like the odd-person-out? Welcome to the world of iconoclastic thinking! Understand, it is not about being right or wrong, but about thinking differently. You can place your own values on your thinking (and you will) but know that others are just as ready to place theirs upon it, too (and they will). Expect others to think differently from you and the stones they toss do not hurt nearly as much.

I cannot think of a single iconoclastic thinker who lived his or her life without pain, attack and opposition. We all, at different points, ask ourselves, “Is it worth it?” The resounding answer is, “Yes!” Sure, we have our moments of doubt. One of the signs of a real iconoclast is a constant challenging of our own beliefs. Another is unflinching flexibility as situations and circumstances evolve. Still another is the ability to act according to those beliefs despite the fear of the unknown that inevitably accompanies them. That is the essence of courage and commitment. That is the makeup of the iconoclastic thinker. Do you qualify? If not, why not?

Keep in mind that the iconoclastic thinker does not always go against the tide. Great iconoclastic leaders have a way of coalescing what other believe or want to believe and lead the way to change and evolution. There was a great experiment conducted in Japan that is know as the “100 Monkeys Experiment”. It involved a troupe of monkeys being relocated on an island with only a supply of yams (sweet potatoes) to eat, something that was outside their normal diet. One day, a female monkey from the troupe, picked up a yam, went into the sea, washed it and began eating it. Soon, all of the troupe was doing the same thing and they all survived as a result.

The fact is that we are all potentially iconoclastic thinkers. We all have ideas and thoughts that run contrary to the winds of current thinking. I suspect that passion is what divides the iconoclast from the masses. What is your purpose in life? Are you willing and able to pursue it with a passion that is unfettered and undeterred? Are you willing and able to take the hits from others? If so, welcome to the world of the iconoclastic thinker. Get off your butt and get out there and involve and include others. It doesn’t matter what the area of human endeavor is involved.

Artists, musicians, poets and dancers, are all iconoclastic thinkers when they break out of the mold and take their art in a new direction and to a new level. The same is true for business people, politicians and theologians. When I was 11 years old, I remember one older kid who came up with a system that revised how we packed groceries at the store in which I worked that increased customer service and raised our level of tips. I still consider him a genius, an iconoclastic thinker. Management was totally opposed to the change but he convinced us all to try it just on one shift and management could not deny the results. I was so inspired that I decided to apply what he had taught us to my newspaper route and the result was that I doubled it within two weeks! Iconoclastic thinking can be contagious to the point of becoming mainstream.

Find your purpose and pursue it with passion. Be brave enough to think differently and have the courage to follow the dictates of your heart, mind and spirit. Live what you preach. Walk the walk. Dare to be different!