Somebody Isn’t Thinking

There are dozens of famous (and some infamous) quotes attributed to U.S. General George S. Patton.

And at one time or another in my career I have used most of them, whether it be for a sales meeting, business presentation or occasionally when counseling my children. I know, I’m even asking myself as I reread that last sentence, “what kind of father quotes Patton to their children?”

June 6 of this year represented the 73rd anniversary of D-Day. In a sales meeting that morning I shared a Patton quote, first as we took a moment to remember and honor the sacrifices of our ancestors, and then to help us transition to the heart of the sales meeting itself.

Patton once said, “if everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” 

In addition to being a bit more gentile than many of Patton’s other more famous sayings, it stresses the merits of thinking for oneself and accepting the notion that differing opinions aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

Goodness knows, I’ve played the role of devil’s advocate on more than one occasion throughout my career. Some might even say that I’ve elevated the role of contrarian into an art form.

I’d like to think that it’s because I have an idea or two that warrant consideration, even if it is opposite of the standard way of thinking.

Interestingly, Stanford Professor E.H. Krehbiel reflected similar thinking, albeit with a bit more dramatic intensity, during an address to the Association of Collegiate Alumnae in 1919.

“When everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks at all,” said Professor Krehbiel, in closing remarks.

It’s clear that both Patton and Krehbiel not only respected the significance of ideation as part of a successful strategy-building process, they required it.

Patton, who will always strike me as being the ultimate contrarian while interacting with his superiors, seemingly also valued the input from his direct reports. And that is because I truly believe that like most successful leaders, he didn’t want to surround himself with “yes” men.

At the end of the day, the final decision was his, and that will never be in question. However, history shows that the most successful leaders, of which Patton is without peer, typically encouraged healthy debate, discussed strategy and created multiple options in the run up to the agreed upon plan.

So, despite all this talk about contrarianism, I think we can all agree on one thing. Who are we to argue with General Patton?



SOURCES: “11 quotes that show the great leadership of General George Patton” Business Insider, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 6 Jun. 2017.

10 March 1919, San Jose (CA) Evening News, pg. 2, col. 1: “War and the Social Conscience” by Professor E. H. Krehbiel


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