The challenges of corporate stewardship are rapidly increasing while mimetic behaviour and failure to take important boardroom decisions in time lead to dire consequences for all stakeholders. Increasing transparency increases the risks involved while exacerbating the inability to act. This behavior creates an opportunity for those determined to act. The solution is to know yourself and how to improve.

You may have heard about Systems 1 and 2 made famous by the international bestseller “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. It is likely to be the most sold out management book in the world which has hardly ever been read. It is in fact at times quite heavy and you need to invest time and effort to understand it. However, the key message may be that our mind controls us and delivers solutions constantly. We could view it as being in the backseat of a car. We are going forward, but we are under the control of someone else. If you want to change the world around you, you need to take control of your thoughts – you need to be in the front seat and be an engaged thinker. 

Being an active thinker makes all the difference, to think through problems actively, engage in how upcoming meetings are likely to pan out and to take control of your way forward. 

When you read this, you may think of it as a truism – but that is a “backseat”, intuitive thought. The brain power delivering passive thoughts is 220 000 times more powerful than our tiny ability to actively think in a focused way. It is the difference between knowing intuitively that 5 times 5 is 25, easy and passively, and you will be right. But, say, 223 times 547 requires concentration and active engaged thinking. This state of thinking is hard and requires effort but is where you need to be to make a difference.

When you really engage with your thoughts, you become a better listener and build your ability to critically review what other people, co-workers and bosses say and you start to understand their agenda. This is when you start to stand out as a truly useful resource. But this is also where the challenge is.

When you are entering the sphere of being a contrarian, a person that is viewed as being a troublemaker and that should be discarded, it is even more important to be liked, to be a master of careful presentation and social reciprocity. It is actually quite easy because when you really are becoming engaged, it is so much easier to see and understand why people say things and how they may be stuck in certain narratives and traditions. Remember: they are in the backseat unless they are truly engaged, and people very seldom are.

If you want to be truly useful you need to become a leader of progress and strategic direction. The road starts with active and engaged thinking. The challenge is social: people don’t like people to come up with anything but the expected.

You need to work on a way to be liked and listened to. How to present and introduce in a way that people don’t shoot you down as trouble. When you control that phase well, you have become a contrarian: a truly resilient one.