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Woman on cliff edge, thinking

To Be a Winner, You Need to Be Unconventional

This may seem obvious, but the problem with conventional thinking is that it does not lead to truly new ideas, creativity or innovation. Yet most of us individually and collectively -- in our families, organisations and communities -- think and behave conventionally.

Even business creativity tends to be conventional. Teams use conventional brainstorming to generate 100 conventional ideas that lead to conventional improvements in product and process. These conventional ideas are little different to those generated in a similar brainstorm in a similar company down the road.

Most of the time, conventional thinking is fine. Most of your work, your operations and your social interaction can and should be conventional. Conventional usual works and rarely offends, that's why it is conventional.

Don't Differentiate; Be Unconventionally Different

But, if you want to stand out, if you want to be distinct from your competitors, if you want to innovate like a legend, you need to dare to become different and do something unconventional. If you want your toothpaste to stand out from the 100s of toothpaste variations that can be found in any reasonably stocked supermarket, differentiation won't do it. Sure, you can claim your product includes powdered sunshine that will make my teeth glow. But how will that be noticeably different to me when I'm in a supermarket, scanning all the conventional boxes stuffed with conventional tubes of toothpaste, looking for my usual brand? I'll let you in on a secret. I won't even notice your toothpaste.

If you want to catch my attention, if you want to have a hope that I might even stop and consider your product, conventional differentiation just won't do the trick. You need to be distinctly different and that means being unconventional. You've got to do something so outlandish, it will rip my eyes away from the boxes of tubes of toothpaste and focus my sight on your unconventionally unique product.

To achieve that, your unconventional tooth cleaning product must be something that's not in a tube in a box that promises to make my teeth a wee bit whiter. It has got to be more impressive.

Conventional thinking won't get you there, sweetheart.

Your True Competitors

Conventional thinking about the competition is dangerous. You probably think your competitors -- the companies you have to watch out for -- are a handful of businesses similar to yours. Yet, those businesses are not really competition. You know where they stand. They know where you stand. You all do pretty much the same conventional things to deliver the same growth and pretty much operate the same way. Those companies are not your most dangerous competition. Rather, it is three young people in a shack in Mumbai who are dreaming up a web delivered product that does 50% of what your product does, but 98% of what your customers want. It will be available for a fraction of the cost of your product. It might even be free. It will be so unconventional that when you first learn about it, you will laugh it off.

Just like Kodak laughed off digital photography. Just like the blacksmiths of Detroit laughed off the Ford Model T.

But, by the time you realise that you are hemorrhaging customers to those kids in Mumbai, it will be too late. The conventional actions of laying off staff, insisting that the Mumbai product is not as good as yours (which is correct, but the problem is, the Mumbai product is good enough for your customers) and eventually emulating the Mumbai product won't be good enough. If you survive, it will be as a ghost of your former corporate glory. Meanwhile, those kids in Mumbai will be on the cover of Fortune magazine.

Because the difference between you and the upstart that wrecked your business is that you acted conventionally right up to the bitter end, while they acted unconventionally because they were young, far away and naive enough to think that their crazy unconventional idea might actually work in a conventional market like the one you and your predecessors carved out for your businesses over years.

The funny thing is, those kids were right.

To Be a Winner, You Need to Be Unconventional

The thing is, you see, if you really want to be creative. If you want your toothpaste to stand out and scream, "check me out!" to customers; if you want to launch the disruptive innovation that changes the face of your industry; if you want to implement the business plan that becomes the legendary case study every MBA course uses, you simply cannot think conventionally. You need to flush conventions down the toilet and begin thinking unconventionally.

And that, my friend, is the value of anticonventional thinking. It is about being truly different. It is about standing out. It is about being unconventionally unique in a marketplace full of nearly identical products, processes and philosophy.

Want to make a difference? Want to change the world? Be anticonventional!

Want to Discuss This With Me?

If so, get in touch. I'd love to chat about it with you!



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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium