Identify Your Members by the Theory of 21

“For every person who will say yes, there are twenty who will say no. For a positive response you must find the twenty-first person.” – The Theory of 21

Identify members

The CEO of an electronics company had an idea. He was a solid business person but was not as well-versed in electronics as some of his engineers. He came up with an idea and did not know if it was feasible. He asked two engineers to explore how it could be done so he could test the feasibility of the idea becoming a new product line.
One engineer made an appointment, and delivered a formal presentation to the CEO explaining why the idea would not work. He had color charts and graphs and even some data that suggested no one would want the product even if it were to make it to market.
When he finished, the CEO told him that the other engineer was in the process of implementing the idea. Instead of developing a knock-your-socks-off presentation explaining why the idea was a bad one, the other engineer had waded through the obstacles to find a way to make it happen.
The idea, by the way, was caller ID – that now-ubiquitous service on most phones.

There are two types of people in the world: the “20’s” and the “21’s”. The 20’s are those people who consistently declare that anything new cannot, should not or will not be done. The 21’s are those people who look for ways of making things happen – even those things considered to be impossible by others.

There are two types of 20’s: Negative 20’s and Positive 20’s.

Negative 20’s are easy to spot and you already know who most of them are in your organization and in your life. You know that if you bring a new idea to them they will shoot it down. Immediately and out of habit, they will let you know in no uncertain terms that it cannot be done, should not be done or will not be done. If you press them, they will give you valid-sounding reasons why their position is justified. They give away their position with statements like:

  • We have never done it that way before
  • It has never been done
  • We are already doing that
  • Nobody will like it
  • The boss will never approve it

By now you have learned who these people are and what a waste of time it can be to engage them. In fact, when you want to get something done quickly and done well, you tend to give it to someone who is already busy, a 21.
Described above is the Negative 20, the people who come right out and tell you that it cannot be done.

More difficult to recognize is the Positive 20 because they can sound like a 21.

These slippery critters can delay a project until it is no longer viable. They can dilute an idea until it has little resemblance to the original concept. They are dangerous.

The Positive 20 may say something like, “That’s a great idea and something we need to do someday,” or “We could do that if …..” “It will be easier for us to do that when…”

The 21’s are the people you know who somehow always seem to find a way to make things happen. Rather than offer excuses, they may offer alternatives. Instead of saying they do not have time to do whatever you are asking them to do, they will ask, “What is your timeframe?”

To differentiate between the Positive 20’s and the 21’s, listen for delays, “buts” and “ifs”.

How do 20’s find their way into otherwise successful organizations? First of all, there are more of them than are 21’s. In fact, there are not enough 21’s in the world so, eventually, despite your best efforts, you will find a 20, probably a Positive 20, somewhere in the organization. If they are in a position to influence decisions, they will attract other 20’s. After all, 20’s don’t like having 21’s around.

So, what do you do with the 20’s in your organization?

TEACH – The single, most important function of leadership is to teach. You have achieved your level of success because someone took the time to teach you. As you teach, you will ascertain whether you have a student or not.

EXEMPLIFY – Praise the 21’s in public. When your members know that you appreciate, admire and respect the efforts of the 21’s, more of them will aspire to be 21’s.

REMIND – There are no extraordinary people. There are only ordinary people who are doing things that other people consider to be extraordinary. Everyone on your team was brought onboard because they have a skill set, ability or something else that could make them extraordinary.

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were friends and mentors. Ford was in Edison’s facility when one of his engineers reported that one of Edison’s ideas could not be done. Edison listened patiently and then said, “Build it anyway.”
Later, one of Ford’s engineers would come into his office and explain why a “shiftless” (automatic) transmission was impossible to manufacture. How did Ford respond? “Build it anyway.”
Two lines from the movie, “Apollo 13” are applicable for every organization.
“Houston, we have a problem.” Sooner or later every organization faces a seemingly insurmountable problem. How do you address it?

“Failure is not an option.” For 21’s, this is a lifestyle.

Chuck Reaves
Chuck Reaves, CSP, CPAE, CSO helps companies raise their prices and volumes simultaneously through innovative processes, tools and training. With his innovative presentations on sales and motivation he has inspired hundreds of people to pursue and achieve their impossible dreams. Along with pioneering many advanced sales tools and processes, Chuck’s achievements include Vistage’s ‘Impact Speaker of the Year’ honors and being named the top salesperson for AT&T. For more information about Chuck Reaves, please visit