Looking for unreasonable men





John Ashcroft, Chief Executive of pro.manchester, explains why we needs unreasonable men and women to secure growth in the Manchester Economy.

Business growth and the work of the Business Growth Hub is dependent on the unreasonable entrepreneurs who strive to expand and develop their business ideas, no matter how difficult the market situation and the economic climate.

George Bernard Shaw said “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Shaw was right, we need unreasonable men and women to secure growth in the Manchester Economy.

In Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs, Isaacson wrote of the Steve Jobs’s reality distortion field. The term derived from an episode in Star Trek in which aliens create a new world through sheer mental force.

Steve Jobs would insist on the impossible in terms of task and timetable to achieve objectives, creating his reality distortion field into which the team would be drawn.

“The reality distortion field was a melange of charisma, rhetoric, indomitable will and an eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand,” according to Andy Hertzfeld who joined the Apple Mac team in the eighties.

You did the impossible because you didn’t realise it was impossible, the classic remark.

The reality distortion field can serve as a spur to progress but in the end reality hits. Jobs had his share of failure with the Apple Lisa, the NeXT and the Macintosh computers. The latter resulting in the twenty million dollar write off of the state of the art production plant in Fremont, California.

Jobs gradually realised the flaw in the field. He once quoted Alice Through the Looking Glass, the episode in which Alice laments that no matter how hard she tries, she can’t believe in impossible things. The White Queen retorts, “Why sometimes I believed in six impossible things before breakfast”. Jobs smiled - a reality check perhaps.

Jobs in his earlier years said that from time to time he was be prepared to bet the company on some new idea or technology. But this was a younger Jobs before the brutal reality of being ousted from his own creation had taken place.

The Jobs returning to Apple in 1996 had become more cautious. He had realised leaders can create a reality distortion field to strive for the impossible and motivate others. He had also realised the canny entrepreneur should never be oblivious to reality and never be prepared to bet the firm. When the force field collapses, the reality check can be brutal and there is no Scottie to beam us aboard the Starship Enterprise.

All progress depends on the unreasonable but successful entrepreneurs.

John Ashcroft is Chief Executive of pro.manchester, a director of Marketing Manchester, a member of the AGMA Business Leadership Council and a visiting professor at MMU Business School specialising in Macro Economics and Corporate Strategy. The second edition of his case study : 'Apple from the iPod to the iPad : A case study in corporate strategy' will be published in April.

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