With his ample ego, it wouldn’t be hard to poke fun at Eli Broad. But while some gentle teasing might be in order, Broad also deserves a full measure of respect and gratitude. As depicted in his surprisingly affecting memoir-cum-business-advice-book, The Art of Being Unreasonable, he’s a pretty amazing guy, someone who has been wildly effective in four separate careers and who now wants to share his hard-earned experience with countless others. His advice and exhortations reminded me of a very influential tome from my own Midwestern roots: William Danforth’s I Dare You. Danforth and Broad share the same overwhelming optimism that all things are possible—with enough hard work. Still, 192 pages later, I was left with a mystery: how to explain Broad’s lifelong allegiance to the Democratic Party, other than as an inheritance from his liberal parents. For there was nothing in the book, really, about his success (or anyone else’s) being the product of communal effort or government help. Indeed, the sense one gets is that Eli Broad believes religiously in the power of the Individual—the one man (or woman) who dares to be Unreasonable, ask hard questions, look at problems anew, and make the world conform to his vision—a notion that fits firmly within the Republican camp these days. Broad doesn’t talk—or at least write—like a Democrat. And his education philanthropy doesn’t fit the “liberal” bill, either. He appears to have no patience for the arguments of the apologists that “it’s the poverty, stupid.” He wants to train up super-talented people to be superintendents and turn them loose on urban school systems, to invest in charter-school networks that are hitting their numbers and performing miracles regularly. He doesn’t want to hear “We can’t” when someone else is willing to promise “Yes we can.” And to his credit, his relatively modest investments in education have, by all measures, been remarkably effective. You might not agree with Eli Broad’s views on education. But it would be foolish to take him as naïve. His unreasonableness has led to tremendous success for sixty years. And he’s not done with America’s schools yet.
SOURCE: Eli Broad, The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2012).