Counterintuitive Life-Changing Principles, Part 2

Where do the greatest break-throughs come from? Certainly not from following the same recipe, which produces predictable and consistent outcomes. No, in order to achieve a quantum leap ahead, use a counterintuitive life-changing principle.

Welcome to the second installment in a periodic series of posts that present ten powerful, life-changing counterintuitive principles that when put to use, usually lead to break-through results.  I’ve collected these over nearly fifty years of managing people and seeking out the best practices of running an enterprise. They may take some fine tuning to fit your specific situation and the people involved.

In the first installment I challenged you to answer a simple question about five famous fellas:

What do These Five Men Have in Common?

  • Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft
  • Tris Speaker, Hall of Fame baseball player
  • Harry Warner, Founder of Warner Brothers Films
  • Thomas Watson, former Chairman of IBM
  • Charles W. Duell, former head of the US Patent Office

Where Would We Be Today If…

…we took the guidance of these five top professionals, recognized giants in their fields, and followed what they said as true? Our world would have remained as it always had been.

  • In 1981, Bill Gates of Microsoft confidently proclaimed, “640K of memory ought to be enough for anybody,” as he designed the prototypes of the personal computer?
  • Harry Morris Warner, one of the founding brothers who started Warner Brothers Films, when shown a breakthrough to place a soundtrack onto a film, was dead set against the idea. He told those present, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” 
  • Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, one of Major League Baseball’s greatest hitters, commenting about his contemporary George Herman Ruth’s decision the previous season to stop pitching and move to the outfield, remarked, “Babe Ruth sure made a mistake when he gave up pitching!”
  • Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s Chairman during the heyday of IBM’s electronic typewriters, was asked at an annual shareholder meeting to comment about the world market for IBM’s new data processing machines, declared, “There is probably a world market for the computer of maybe five machines.”  
  • Charles H. Duell was the Commissioner of U.S. Patent Office in 1899 and was asked why he felt that he’d be its last Commissioner. “Simple,” said Duell. “Everything that can be invented has already been invented.”

You wouldn’t know or enjoy the innovations brought to you by Microsoft, media giant Warner Brothers, IBM, the technology that you and I enjoy daily, or hear baseball broadcasters compare your favorite team’s up and coming star to Babe Ruth if they’d have gone along with the conventional thinking. All the new paradigms today that are part of your life exist because courageous people challenged the existing paradigms and went in a different direction.

With this in mind, let’s examine our next two counterintuitive, life-changing principles.

Counterintuitive Life-Changing Principle #3: If it Ain’t Broke, Break It On Purpose

Conventional wisdom says that if something works well, don’t try to fix it.  That’s OK until it runs its lifecycle, which most things inevitably do.  Recognize the warning signs of diminishing returns – doing more and more of the same, only harder, and watching your results dwindle. 

A car manufacturer can only ride a model for so long before it has to change models or totally redesign it.  Take the Honda Civic for example.  It was introduced into the American market in 1972, and over its 50 years it has been America’s third most popular car. You’d think that with a track record like that you’d stick with the design that made it an annual top seller. 

Wrong!  The Honda Civic is now in its eleventh generation of design with the twelfth generation on the drawing board as you read this. They keep breaking the way they build one of the world’s most popular cars!

The key is not to break things for the sake of breaking them, but to do purposefully at the right time and in an orderly way.  Look for the moment when you begin to experience diminishing returns, which is your early warning to get ready for the introduction of the next generation. 

Counterintuitive Life-Changing Principle #4: Let Go of Control to Gain Control 

How much control do you maintain over how an objective is accomplished?  You gain more control and a high-quality outcome by describing the expected results in detail and letting your staff develop the approaches they’ll use to accomplish the objective.  This is a fundamental principle of what the world’s best managers do (as cited in the Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s new classic, First, Break All The Rules).

Let’s suppose you work with a team of six relatively experienced people that are generally familiar with a particular objective.  Clearly articulate your specific expectations for the objective and then ask the group (or each individual) to develop a plan to accomplish the objective.  Define the outcome you want, then ask them to tell you how they’ll achieve it.

By doing this you unleash the creativity of each person, and because it is his or her own plan, you’ve gained each team member’s buy-in to achieving the objective.  Monitor progress, offer encouragement, and watch how the team meets the objectives because you gave them control over how it was to be done. 

Conversely, by not doing this and remaining the single point of control, you become the small end of the funnel through which your department’s work flows.  Your department loses the additional productivity and staff buy-in for the cost of having to be in control on everything. 

For more tips on how to define outcomes and not steps, please see my article on Seven Steps to Complete Clarity When Setting Expectations With Staff.

Bottom Line

While paradigms are helpful when we want to obtain consistent results, there are times when a breakthrough is needed instead.  Just about every major piece of technology you use today because someone decided to use a counterintuitive principle to break the rules for a better outcome.  Which of the four counterintuitive, life -changing principles will you try this week?

This post is taken from the best practices taught in our internationally acclaimed leadership and sales training programs, Leading Through People™ 30, Counterintuitive Principles to Ignite Passion & Effectiveness.

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

  • Improving your (or your team s) management and leadership skills: Leading Through People . This acclaimed program equips participants in thousands of current and emerging best practices of leadership, hiring, and talent development.
  • Raising your (or your team s) selling and sales management effectiveness: B2B Sales Essentials (among the 30-plus courses we offer are ones on selling with emotional intelligence and storyselling!)
  • Conducting a more effective job search: Get a Better Job Faster

For the past 25 years I’ve worked with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. Thanks to our clients, the company I founded in 1998, Boyer Management Group, was recognized by CEO Monthly Magazine for its “Most Influential CEO Award, 2023” in the executive coaching field.  Our coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time.  Our extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new and developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive.  BMG boasts one of the most extensive sales and sales management curriculums anywhere, with behavioral assessments to help develop talent. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982. 


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