While serving on a non-profit investment committee, the outside investment service they employed proposed another energy related investment that had previously underperformed. Utilizing my decades of professional experience in energy, I rebutted several of their premises and put forward a different investment strategy.
While I debated this proposal with the investment service advisors, the other committee members remained silent. Then, a committee member spoke up and proposed lowering the amount invested in an attempt to seek a compromise. I stated that I could not vote for this proposal based on my analysis and historical underperformance. The committee could not find a compromise that united the members, so a vote was taken: 4-2. The investment proposal was approved at the lower investment level. My contrarian position was not accepted.
Jemima Kelly wrote an opinion titled Contrarians are valuable, even when they’re wrong (Financial Times, January 27 2021). “People who actually change … history are often dismissed as crackpots and fruitcakes when they come out with their initial ideas. … In many cases they prove to be prescient.” When I worked in London and assembled a new management team for my region, I sought diversity: age, gender, skill, and culture. I balanced the team with male and female managers. Their ages ranged from mid-thirties to mid-fifties. My management team was composed of two Germans, a Norwegian, a Canadian, a Brazilian, two Danes, and a Brit. It was a mini-United Nations.
My role was to uplift the differences, listen, and seek consensus. I wanted the contrarians to speak out with confidence and not let the team stifle their opinions. In one tense meeting, I stopped the anger that was building over a controversial topic and implemented a round table which allowed each person to speak individually without interruption. After all views were heard, we had a calmer discussion and agreed on a way forward. My team later said it was our best meeting. Tensions eased because all were allowed to express their opinions while others listened. Being heard and respected is foundational towards gaining consensus.
“Even if their views don’t end up becoming mainstream, or if they turn out to be wrong, contrarians still contribute. They widen the scope of debate. They can also embolden the consensus view: if you’re presented with a set of opposing arguments that don’t stack up, you tend to feel more confident in your position, not less.”
During the last four weeks, our minister preached a sermon series on Luke 6:17-49, the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus Christ was the ultimate contrarian:
- “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20b)
- “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:24)
- “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
Jesus’ sermon was certainly controversial, even by today’s standards. Yet, he kept speaking eternal truths that shocked his audiences. He also died for his beliefs and never renounced them. Many people were later persecuted for accepting the gospel. It took several hundred years for Christianity to be the accepted religion of the Roman Empire. One contrarian can make a difference, although in many cases it takes time.
When the pandemic occurred early in 2020, worldwide energy demand fell which plummeted energy prices and negatively impacted the energy investment that was approved. Once the funds were invested, I wished my views had been incorrect to benefit the non-profit. To be fair, I did not factor a pandemic into my analysis (who would have in 2018!).
Contrarians should always have a place at the table, be heard, and respected. He or she might be right and potentially change the world.