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Go Ahead, Wear White!

All of our lives it seems that people have been telling us what we should and should not do, what is correct and what is not, and how to do things and how not to do things. Sometimes, this list of unwritten rules and codes is referred to as, “conventional wisdom.” If it is ever challenged, it is explained as, “that is just the way it is!” All further conversation then ends and if it is ever called into question, eyes roll and distance is sought.

That is, until some maverick actually refuses to adhere and follow the flock and builds a different path.

Today is Labor Day

While this holiday is focused on appreciating the efforts of workers and the contributions made by them, it also serves as an informal demarcation between Summer and Autumn.  As part of that transition, it is “understood” that white pants are to be put away for the season.  Khakis, colored trousers, patterned slacks, etc. are considered seasonally appropriate, but to wear “white” is to buck what is considered to be a fashion “norm.”

Innovator are not shackled by what experts maintain is "true" or "fact."

Innovator are not shackled by what experts maintain is “true” or “fact.”

While this example may seem silly and not germane to business (unless you are in the apparel business), there are other accepted standards.  For instance:

White wine is to consumed with fish and poultry; red wine is to be paired with beef.  Now, while in some instances that may be preferred by the person eating the meal; there is no hard and fast MUST to that so-called “rule.”  If one prefers to have red while eating vegetables and dip, or if someone leans toward having a Chardonnay with Roast Beef, then there is no reason why that person should have to conform.

Just because “someone” (though, none of us knows exactly WHO made these rules) claims that is how it MUST be done, it does not mean that is fact or should remain as such. 

Business Context

In our businesses, we speak of streamlining processes to become more efficient (which often means doing what is currently done, only cheaper or more accurately).  We refer to wanting to become more effective (translation: do the same things with higher rates of success).  However, for many businesses, that really just means do what you do – only better.

There is another approach to use – and that is to innovate.  Not to look at what is done and try to improve upon it, but to look at what is NOT done, and seek to accomplish that.  For instance, Edison did not try to create a brighter or longer lasting candle (which would have been improving upon what existed), he pursued creating a light bulb.  Another example is that Steve Jobs did not endeavor to advance the Sony Walkman or to incrementally improve the PC.  And, Henry Ford did not try to make a horse run faster or for longer periods of time. He created the automobile.

The Customer Does NOT Always Know What is Best

In each of the above examples, had the customer been asked how to solve the issue they confronted (darkness, lack of portability or mobility of personal entertainment devices, or transportation) – they would NOT have suggested the product that eventually was created by the inventor or innovator.

Our businesses tend to accept the traditions and conventions of behavior, strategy, and process.  The reality is that the best way to eliminate competition (at least initially), is to create a new market or product capability.  Simply adding a feature or providing an additional flavor may create small benefits and market share, but it does little to really provide large incremental value.

So, rather than following the crowd, find your own path, look for what is NOT possible (according to “experts”), and then go out and do it.  And, if you happen to do it after Labor Day while wearing white pants, all the better!

David Zahn