How do you get salty? How does one become a curmudgeon?

Benjamin P. Taylor
2 min readMay 10, 2023

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What are YOU a curmudgeon about at work?

What unpopular opinion do you stubbornly hold on to?

What can you not resist correcting people on?

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We’ve all met them.

People who seem to have a lot to offer.

A different, challenging perspective.

And then perhaps when you try to work with them, it’s just too hard.

Self-righteousness mixed with righteous anger mixed with self-pity mixed with despair.

Let me be clear — we all have a part of this (I sure do), and we absolutely need people like this to push the edges and be a gadfly when we’re getting something wrong.

But why do they get like this?

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I think these are some of the intertwingled patterns:

* The world seems to reward those who put out divergent and combative perspectives. Yet they run their unique, combative insights up the flagpole and– and unlike the popularisers and the gooroos, nobody salutes it! So they double down on the divergence and the combativeness.

* They’ve spent twenty, thirty, forty years thinking and working to get it RIGHT. And so they justifiably know what’s right, and believe that pointing out where people go wrong should be rewarded.

* They set out an impossible ideal (perfect agile, ideal lean, a completely flat selforganisingorganisation), and hate everyone who fails to achieve it, or even try. And, of course, because they fail to achieve it too (because it’s impossible), they hate themselves. But of course they can’t reveal that so they *try* to hide it…

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Those who double down and don’t have the flexibility or luck to get out of the pattern are stuck in a reinforcing loop. The more they do their thing, the more they get rejected, the more they do their thing. Usually, their valuable message gets lost — except perhaps for a few acolytes or occasional grudging acknowledgement.

Those who wannabe gooroos try to lock in their followers and destroy all enemies, without yet having followers.

Those who wannabe popularisers bang out their thinking and don’t understand why it doesn’t go viral.

And there are those who just wannabe a naïve enthusiast again, and escape from their jaded trap of knowledge.

And then there are the contented, confirmed curmudgeons who have settled into it like an oyster on a rock, and quietly, secretly enjoy the fact that their pearls keep getting rejected.

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I’m naming a pattern here which is mostly one someone wouldn’t want to be stuck in — except it has a name that excuses bad behaviour, so there’s a certain attraction. Either way, I suggest you use this thinking to navigate working more productively with others, steer your own course, and be very cautious if you label others.

I look forward to a long and happy retirement as a curmudgeon, myself…

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What are YOU a curmudgeon about at work?

What unpopular opinion do you stubbornly hold on to?

What can you not resist correcting people on?

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