What Is a Business Heretic, Anyway?

Rule Breaker

Years ago, I read a fascinating book by William Manchester, A World Lit Only By Fire.

Part of the book is the true-life adventure tale of Magellan’s first-ever circumnavigation of the globe. What made the history so memorable, though, is what Magellan left behind in Europe. Across the continent, the religious and political establishment was burning heretics at the stake.

I’m grateful to be living in the 21st Century, and I’m really glad that my area of heresy is business leadership rather than religion: in business, we only burn our heretics in a figurative sense. No actual bonfires.

All of which still begs the question, “What is a business heretic, anyway?” Here’s my short answer:

A heretic challenges established orthodoxy by espousing new ideas in place of the tired old status quo.

Heresy is not just a matter of tearing down existing practices: that’s nothing more than vandalism. Instead, the heretic offers what she thinks is a more rational, rewarding alternative to the timeworn phrase, “This is the way we’ve always done it.”

In business, that means we look at what most companies are doing, and what ideas and practices most leaders are perpetuating. And it doesn’t always make a lot of sense to us. Unsatisfied with the answers we get to “Why?”, we ask: “How about you try it this way, instead? Doesn’t this make more sense?”

What is a business heretic? Heretics are quite often misfits in the workplace. It’s someone who embraces The Human Side of Business in this still-dawning new century of ours.

We don’t criticize as a spectator sport.

Rather, we call across the chasm to our friends toiling in 20th Century workplace fiefdoms to say, “Hey gang, check this out! There’s a better way! Join us. You’re gonna love it!”

And for those understandably reluctant winners atop the old-school corporate pyramids, we smile with outstretched arms and say, “Come on, you too. Your shareholders are gonna love this new way. You will, too, because managing won’t seem like such a chore. Don’t be afraid.”

Are you a business heretic? We’ve got plenty of room for you in our community. We’d love to have you! Here’s how to plug into this burgeoning movement:

  1. Sign up for our RSS feed or email subscription.
  1. Comment on posts often. You’re likely to make some good friends that way. We have!
  1. Share our links with your network. Better, tell them a little something about why you liked this or that post.
  1. By far most importantly, act like a heretic at work! Question every one of your company’s “best” practices, to learn the Why of each. Where necessary, offer better alternatives!

There. You’re one of us now. We’re glad to have you. You’re gonna love it!



Art by: Shindus

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Yes indeed, my good friend. We need to talk. Again. Love what you are doing here.

  • Happy to be a heretic:) Cheers! Kaarina

  • William Powell

    Fiefdom. That’s money. Love being a heretic alongside you my friend!

  • Stew

    Hello again Ted,

    One of the great things about being a heretic is you get to do things your own way, ’cause it works better. Then, you watch your results speak for themselves, and stick two fingers up to the establishment.

    Now…. If you go around uniting heretics into some big “Heretical Club”, you’ll end up creating a “heretical” orthodoxy – with models and systems and processes and ‘gurus’ and all the management bollox that so annoys current heretics.

    Then we’ll need a new cycle of heretics to rebel against your (now orthodox) heresy.

    I’m not saying this is bad – I think it’s a brilliant way to accelerate progress through a “Orthodoxy-Heresy Cycle”, but now I consider it, isn’t this how all progress happens?

    Perhaps, I’m just an old-school heretic, uncomfortable with the prospect of finding himself “the norm”!

    Fondest Regards,


  • Great piece Ted. I say, when you find areas, and things that need to change, make your ideas known! Then you must break up the status quo. Vince DelaRosa / http://www.Ccdcom.com

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