Transformation isn’t easy. It requires changing not only people’s minds, but their hearts as well. Not a simple task.

But in a history of mankind there were plenty of inspiring examples of people who brought forth transformative change. Facing plenty of negativity, they did so fearlessly, never giving-up, never backing down. So the question becomes: what is the magical human formula that drives people like that?

I had a pleasure of hearing Malcolm Gladwell talk about the same very topic. According to him, people who drive transformation share three traits:


Courage to explore the unexplored. Courage to defy the nay-sayers. Courage to persist when the whole world seems to be against you.

People who possess the courage are:

  • Massively open and incredibly creative, willing to consider all kinds of innovative solutions.
  • Conscientious, willing to follow through on their ideas.
  • Disagreeable and independent, willing to disagree with what the world perceives as a ‘norm.’

The combination of these three is what brings true magic to light. Some people are creative, but not conscientious, they have no ability to execute on the idea. Some are great at execution, but lack the openness. It is also not enough to have ideas and the discipline to carry them out, one has to tune out the nay-sayers, and the rest of the world, if necessary. The last one though is extremely hard for us humans to do because we naturally crave approval of our peers.

Ability to reframe the problem

Transformation requires reimagining every step of the current process. And that includes hiring, because people who are holding on to the legacy solutions are not those who will help you bring the transformation forth, you need people with fresh outlook and new mentality.

You also have to reframe the problem.

In the early 1920s David Sarnoff was one of the people credited with helping radio become an entertainment necessity vs. luxury. At the time when the outdoor heavyweight championship boxing match between American Jack Dempsey and French challenger, Georges Carpentier, was dubbed the “Battle of the Century,” Sarnoff pitches the idea to broadcast the boxing match to the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). When they declined to do so, Sarnoff did it himself. And so, in 1921, they called it “the largest audience in history,” the 300,000 or so people estimated to have heard one of the first radio broadcasts of a special event. And suddenly radio wasn’t just an expensive box that brings you the same news that plenty of newspapers did. Radio became a device that brought the world live into your own living room. Radio sales exploded, it became mainstream.

What Sarnoff did was reframe the problem.

Sense of urgency

Not only innovators have courage to withstand the nay-sayers and the vision to reframe the problem, they possess a wicked sense of urgency, of getting stuff done, now. A lot of companies produced the innovations they didn’t actually invent (they copied them), but because they acted upon the idea – no matter how imperfect – they were credited with those inventions first. And reaped the benefits.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent the mouse, Xerox engineers did. But Jobs saw the brilliance of the idea and had to implement it. And he did. By the time Xerox came out with their product, Macintosh already launched and was a far superior one. What set Jobs apart was his mentality of agility and his burning desire to get it done.

The reason change is so hard for so many is because it is hard to let go of the legacy that was already built, no matter how outdated it is. Someone’s identity is tied into the old way of thinking. It is a threat to someone’s ego. The view is different from the ivory tower than from the streets. But to stay relevant one needs to be open to transformation, even if it means rebuilding from scratch what one spent years constructing.

Originally published on Inc. 

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