May 22, 2018

Curing the Collywobbles — Part 5: You Can’t Reason Your Way to Safety

rhodesThe path of reason is not the path of change. Reason won’t cure your collywobbles. It won’t get you over the change threshold, and even if it does, it’ll leave you hanging out to dry when you reach for it later.

Being reasonable is the way we try to understand things. If we can understand something, we can control it. Or so we think. That’s especially true for lawyers: we’re reasonable people, working in a reasonable profession. We are the masters of reasonableness; we are in control.

Or so we think.

Reason has its place, but not if we want to find a new career path, launch a new venture, or otherwise break out of the mold. That kind of change is inherently unreasonable. Consider the following two quotes. You know who said the first one; the second, maybe not.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Einstein, of course, said the first one. And the second? None other than that paragon of rational curmudgeonliness himself, George Bernard Shaw. Apparently even Mr. Shaw knew his limits. Not everybody does, which is why many of the reasonable things reasonable people have said in response to proposed change are so laughable. There’s a link below you can click to amuse yourself with more, but here’s a quick sampling:

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” — H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.” — A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.

You get the point.

We reach for reason because we don’t feel safe. Change threatens our sense of identity, our valued relationships, our income – not to mention everything else we “know” to be true and reliable. We want reason to protect us, convince us we won’t end up living in a refrigerator box.

Not gonna work. We can’t reason our way to safety. Reason only works in hindsight (and not always then). The Maginot Line was a perfectly reasonable defense strategy until the German Army simply did an end run on it.

Reason won’t shift the playing field. It may understand and illuminate it after the fact, but won’t shift it. What will?

To be continued.

Click here for a sampling of other reasonable responses to proposed change and innovation.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice who coaches and mentors other lawyers to love their work and their lives. He leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. James K. Poole says:

    What the hell are “collywobbles?”

Speak Your Mind