Becoming an Iconoclast: What It Takes

April 1, 2024 Mimi Torrington

iconoclast walking through campus

Challenge. Design. Execute. You need to be able to do all three to be an iconoclast. And what's an iconoclast, exactly?

In the latest episode of CFO Weekly, we talked with the man who wrote the book (literally) on iconoclasm. Professional iconoclast, author and Founder and CEO of Accounting Seed, Tony Zorc, joined us in this - our 50th episode - for a riveting discussion about iconoclasm.

What does it mean to be an iconoclast? For Tony, an iconoclast embodies three core qualities:

  1. They challenge the existing way of doing things.

  2. They design a better way of doing things.

  3. They hold and make use of a discipline that executes against the new design.

Why Iconoclasm?

Tony Zorc

Tony explains that when you really think about the Internet, radio, or TV, the messaging we receive doesn’t encourage us to think independently on any level. Examples of this in action:

  • Companies advertise to encourage you to buy specific products

  • NPOs encourage you to donate to their respective causes

  • Politicians appeal for you to vote for a specific party or candidate

The truth is that from a commercial standpoint, there’s no value in encouraging independent thinking. It costs money to communicate messages through these channels. What good would it be if a company encouraged you to think in a way that didn’t generate a return directly back to them?

This entire reality presents an opportunity for the creation of content, like Tony’s book, that enables lateral and independent thinking about context and how to genuinely make the right decisions.

“We need to think about the agenda behind the messaging we receive from companies," Tony Zorc said.

How do you Become an Iconoclast?

iconoclast holding laptop in lobby room

Well, it’s not like a path to graduation, where you’re granted an official title or anything. Tony’s own experience revealed that he was an iconoclast for much longer than he first realized. He walked us down memory lane a little, back to his teenage years when he participated in athletics as a gymnast.

The key link between gymnastics and iconoclasm: reward for creativity. Gymnastics revolves around designing and executing new routines. The ultimate reward is that if you can produce something completely original, and you execute it successfully, you get to name it thereafter.

Not only did gymnastics subtly introduce Tony to iconoclasm but it also taught him time and project management. Being able to work backward from the goal of a perfect and original routine meant scheduling the necessary practice and training time beforehand.

Are People Born as or Developed Into Iconoclasts?

It’s an interesting debate. Tony believes that we’re possibly all born as iconoclasts but that we’re conditioned through our education and childhood experiences to become intellectually submissive. We’re taught over time that questioning absolutely everything creates friction and reduces efficiencies.

The Iconoclast Formula

“Challenge. Design. Execute." - Tony Zorc
  1. Challenge

    Challenge who communicates with you and why. Think about their potential agenda, and how their message might fit into that. Research the subject a little more on your own.

  2. Design

    The fundamental thought behind the design step is to question your options and alternatives for the specific endeavor or goal you’re challenging. Tony shares that in the context of software design, listing the requirements of everything that the solution needs to deliver on is a really helpful experience.

  3. Execute

    When you execute against your design, you’re investigating what’s practical. What’s going to work? The greatest ideas are worth nothing if they’re not executed.

How Can Entrepreneurs Apply the Formula?

Form a habit of challenging the established paradigm. It creates an affinity for change within you. Develop an organized thought pattern through which you can identify opportunities for challenge and change.

An Iconoclast’s View of the Pandemic and Our Response

tony zorc quote

Simply put: we were unprepared for the COVID crisis. There was no response plan for something like this in the US. As a result, panic set in.

Tony believes that panic can sometimes be the appropriate reaction in the middle of a situation, but a process or plan can help reduce the intensity of this. He shares the example of tornado drills and hurricane evacuation practice. We practice these plans because they work in response to their respective emergencies.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with no preparation, it was natural for us to panic in response.

Can We Design a Better Response?

Tony’s view on this is similar to how we developed alert systems for weather conditions.

We measure a number of factors including precipitation, air quality, air pressure and we have criteria that we know we need to meet before sounding the tornado sirens across towns. We have scales of severity for hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes so why can’t we apply something similar to pandemic-related situations?

We’re taught and trained about this, so we know that in a Level 5 hurricane we’re not supposed to leave our homes at all. It would be a crazy risk to take.

With the pandemic, Tony experienced both extremes: some people would say it’s a Level 1 category issue and nothing to really worry about whereas others are adamant that it’s a Level 5 category issue. The actual truth is probably sitting somewhere between the 2 polarized opinions.

More than anything, Tony explains that if the information being communicated with all of us is solid in its foundation then why can’t each of us be trusted to make decisions that we feel to be appropriate for our own contexts?

To use the hurricane example again: it’s not illegal to go out in a Level 5 hurricane; it’s an extreme risk and it doesn’t make sense to do so but you wouldn’t be breaking the law. Tony’s view is that in situations like our current pandemic if we’re delivered appropriate information on which we can base decisions for ourselves, it’s a step in the right direction.

Iconoclastic Thinking & Differing Opinions

what makes sense quote

Once people settled on their respective opinions of whether the pandemic was a Level 1 or Level 5 situation, they stuck with what they felt. Having access to information through the Internet enables us to motivate our decisions and galvanize our opinions. Tony’s response was to vary his sources of information so that the narratives overlapped, clashed, challenged one another and suddenly he had a lot more to work with when he formed his own opinions.

How often do you actively seek out opposing views?

“Nothing in life is risk-free," Zorc said.

The reality is that there is always a risk-return opportunity and the pandemic situation is no different. Thinking this way is definitely more habitual for business people but an iconoclast challenges the status quo, right, so it’s natural to question the possible effect of a cause like stepping out of your house, wearing or not wearing a mask. There’s definitely room to think critically even in a situation like COVID-19 has presented.

Has the Pandemic Given Rise to the Iconoclast?

Our behavior as members of personal and professional relationships, and as consumers, has changed radically in response to the pandemic. While technology is proving effective for our business-related interactions and operations, we’re rejecting it as a mode of personal connection.

iconoclasm book for the iconoclast

Are Iconoclasts Always Entrepreneurs, Inventors or Philanthropists?

Tony says that there’s a difference between these 4 ‘labels,’ but that there is a degree of overlap among them. Often inventors are not iconoclasts because they’ll progress to the point of design, but hand over execution to someone else. Similarly, entrepreneurs take the designs of other people then execute on those, or buy a business (in which case the first 2 steps of challenge and design are already taken care of).

A philanthropist’s goal is to have a positive impact on society, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s being done through challenging, designing, and executing an original methodology.

To find out everything about becoming an iconoclast, grab a copy of Zorc's book: Iconoclasm: A Survival Guide in the Post-Pandemic Economy.

Visit our solutions page to learn more about how Personiv can customize a solution tailored to your business needs.

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