If there is one thing that I have learned over four decades of working, it is this: What stops executives, managers, teams, and individuals from being successful is often simply nonsense.
So, what is nonsense?
The term ‘nonsense’ describes absurd, ridiculous, foolish or meaningless words, ideas, or conduct. Nonsense is purely subjective: you are likely to see ‘nonsense’ when you disapprove of it. (For example, you might disapprove of the word ‘bull’, although others use it to indicate nonsense.)
The problem with nonsense is that it side-tracks you from your work, tricks you into wrong decisions, and trips you short of your goals. Nonsense stops you from being successful.
Nonsense is always at work. It never stops. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is always some sense in nonsense, if you look for it. And if you are willing to look for it, time and again you will find that you can make the nonsense at work work for you.
You see, nonsense has a purpose. It works at getting you to change your ways.
And so the snippets of nonsense that I will share with you over time will either make you think, ‘Hmm, that makes sense’, or ‘What nonsense!’ Both reactions are acceptable. What is not acceptable to me is if you don’t at least think about the sense or the nonsense.
The Nonsense Manifesto
- Nonsense can make you more effective at what you do, and therefore more successful and happier. That is its purpose.
- Once you realize how much nonsense you carry around with you and why you carry it with you, then you can get rid of it, or you can use it, to become more effective, successful and happier.
- In theory, the term ‘nonsense’ describes absurd, ridiculous, foolish or meaningless words, ideas, or conduct. In practice, nonsense is anything that stops you from being successful. Why? Because nonsense side-tracks you from your work, tricks you into wrong decisions and trips you short of your goals.
- Nonsense is difficult to spot because what is nonsense to you might not be nonsense to someone else. It is purely subjective: you are likely to see ‘nonsense’ when you disapprove of it. (For example, you might disapprove of the word ‘bullshit’, although others commonly use it to indicate nonsense.)
- Nonsense will always be with us. Nonsense simply is. Nonsense cannot be eradicated. The more you try, the more you create.
- All nonsense is equal. No nonsense is more so than other nonsense – there are no degrees of nonsense.
- Like a heap of manure, nonsense can grow, but not develop. However, nonsense can be transcended. (Plants grow out of manure to the light.)
- There is always some sense in nonsense. You cannot say the word ‘nonsense’ without also saying the word ‘sense’.
- Nonsense does not matter. What matters is how you respond to nonsense. On the other hand, nonsense does matter – without nonsense, sense would have no meaning.
- Every time you encounter nonsense, you are free to decide whether you see ‘sense’ or ‘non-sense’. You are, indeed, the creator of nonsense. Or of sense. Your choice.
- Nonsense just is, but sense must be uncovered, grasped and held.
- Do not create nonsense, in any shape or form – this is your first obligation. Do not add to existing nonsense – this is your second obligation. Always respond with sense to nonsense – this is your final obligation.
- When, and only if, you fulfill your obligations, do you earn the right not to be negated as nonsense. And that is when you will make the nonsense at work work for you.
About the image:
Undoubtedly, you have seen E. G. Boring’s picture of the old lady and the young girl, the one where you either see a young girl or an old woman. The picture, not E. G. Boring, is quite famous. (If you don’t know what picture I am talking about, then search on-line using the key words “ambiguous Boring figure.”) What is not famous (i.e. common knowledge) is that he got the idea for the picture from a British cartoonist named William Ely Hill. In 1915 Mr. Hill published a cartoon in an American humor magazine named Puck. His cartoon had the following caption: “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law. They are both in this picture. Find them.”)
But there was an even earlier version. Below is a German postcardfrom 1888: