"A fanatic is someone who cannot change his mind and will not change the subject" Winston Churchill
Whether or not you are aware of it we all know at least one. The perfect cup of coffee, the best line on the ski slope, climate change, curing cancer. These causes, and countless others, dominate the thoughts and activities of the good fanatics around us. Sadly, in recent years, fanaticism has got a bad rap, usually in connection with the prosecution of some form of terrorism.
But we all know 'good fanatics'.
Many examples of good fanaticism can be found in the world of sports. We all know athletes whose single minded purpose to excel in their chosen sport could easily be described as fanaticism. Many of those who support, or otherwise follow, these athletes and their sports could easily be described as fanatics, more commonly abbreviated to 'fans', too. Even within the realm of the relatively pedestrian furniture business there are clearly some stand out, positive fanatics. For example, Ikea’s credo states: “Let us continue to be a group of positive fanatics who stubbornly and persistently refuse to accept the impossible, the negative. What we want to do, we can do and will do, together. A glorious future!”.
If we are being honest, you might describe yourself as a good fanatic of one kind or another too, right?
What if we could encourage, promote and harness these powerful passions for the 'forces of good'? Imagine the problems that could be solved by a nation full of Thomas Edisons or Mahatma Ghandis, for example. What would be the formula we would need to employ to ensure the successful emergence, nurturing of these good fanatics and alignment with worthy goals?
Over the past 20 years I have had the opportunity to work alongside many clients and consultants who could easily be described as fanatically devoted to improving the effectiveness of organizations: organizational effectiveness fanatics. Let me share with you four things I have learned about this type of good fanaticism that could work in just about any organization:
1. You need a worthy cause
To light the spark of good fanaticism you first need a worthy cause that has broad appeal and instant understanding. In 2013 we supported Alberta Environment's response to the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history: the floods of 2013. They had a powerful, and simple, call to action: Help get Albertans' lives back to normal as soon as possible. Rallying everyone's efforts around a higher cause like this worked miracles. The results of this good fanaticism were profound and, amongst other things, were recognized with a National level award for innovation. None of this would have been possible, of course, without that most worthy of causes.They even made a video clip describing their experience, out of which the ‘good fanaticism’ clearly oozes: https://www.berlineaton.com/case-studies/southern-alberta-2013-flood-recovery
2. You need bold, composed, empowering leaders
In 1986 I was serving with the Royal Marines Commando in Northern Ireland’s toughest neighborhoods in West Belfast. Punishment shootings, car bombings, kidnappings, rioting and general mayhem were the order of the day. When we arrived, the Irish Republican Army, PIRA, declared that ‘We will kill a Royal Marine’. With all this going on you might have forgiven our commanding officer if he fell into ‘control freak mode’ and micro-managed our every move. Luckily, he did nothing of the sort. Declaring an operational policy of ‘relaxed alertness’ he delegated huge amounts of responsibility to us, his subordinate commanders, and let us get on with it within a supportive, communications rich framework. Of course we modeled this approach and, fortunately, we emerged from the tour unscathed.
3. You need to adopt a ‘Skunkworks’ approach to doing business
Everett Rogers defines skunkworks as follows: "It is an especially enriched environment that is intended to help a small group of individuals design a new idea by escaping routine organizational procedures.” Good fanatics tend to do their best work in these informal, high pressure, focused environments especially if they can work with like minded individuals. An important feature of a Skunk Works is the ‘safe to fail’ ethos permeating its learning culture. Innovators won’t try new things if they get censured every time they fail. As Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” At Berlineaton we could easily be described as fanatics about Continuous Improvement and have Skunk Worked some radical improvements to our core methodology: Continuous Improvement. You can read more about our journey here: https://www.berlineaton.com/blog/continuous-improvement-practicing-what-we-preach#sthash.hsbKvmDT.dpuf
4. You need a clear goal
In 1986 Robert Swan, Roger Mear and Gareth Wood became the first humans to travel, unassisted and unsupported, on foot, across 900 miles of Antarctic ice to the South Pole. This successful ‘In the Footsteps of Scott’ expedition represented the culmination of several years of planning, fundraising, and training largely sustained and invigorated by one simple, but challenging, goal: reach the South Pole, unassisted. Many of the good fanatics we have worked with over the years have set similarly simple to understand, yet difficult to achieve, goals such as:
“BC: Pollution free”
“For the first time, clearly map out all our business processes’ Reduce turnaround time by at least 30%"
"We are the professional partner of choice for world leaders in the natural resource sector working in Northwest BC.”
Galvanized by such visions, good fanatics can more easily and effectively align their single minded focus on the end game. It’s also easier to get others on board to help with the journey. I’m sure that you have some great ideas about what makes a good fanatic. I’d love to hear your ideas as, perhaps, they will help me develop a better understanding of how I tend to operate from time to time to time!