Unreasonable Progress


It’s a well-known brand with great appeal to a broad range of consumers. IKEA is among the world’s most successful mass-market retailers. It sells affordable Scandinavian-style home furnishings and other home goods in 33 countries.

The founder, Ingvar Kamprad, profiles an “unreasonable” man who has generated important progress.

A brilliant strategist, Kamprad realized that a large part of furniture costs were in its assembly. So, he sold unassembled furniture and shipped it cheaply to customers in flat boxes. It was a huge change and a big success. However, his industry peers were furious with this innovation. In retaliation, they launched a boycott of IKEA and the company faced ruin.

Undaunted, Kamprad looked across the Baltic Sea to Poland which had far cheaper labor and plenty of wood. Although Poland was in Communist chaos in the 1960s, he made connections and tenaciously developed the infrastructure necessary to manufacture. Despite being labeled a “traitor,” he persevered.

Considered a renegade, time has proven his vision and principles have game-changing results. IKEA’s net profits in 2012-13 were $4.5 billion. Kamprad was open to imagining new approaches and he was able to challenge common preconceptions. He was “disagreeable” – meaning he was willing to take social risks to do things that others might disapprove. He also had the discipline and persistence to implement his ideas. Kamprad was both an innovator and a revolutionary.

George Bernard Shaw captures the character of change-leaders like Kamprad well: “The reasonable person adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable person.”

Want to get farther faster? Consider the risk and return for being “unreasonable.”

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com


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