By Stephan Aarstol
Even if they’ve never visited, most people consider Colombia a highly dangerous place fraught with crime. But every year, people flock there to paddle down the Amazon, trek through the jungle, tour ancient cities and relax on the Caribbean.
On a recent visit, I learned for myself that popular beliefs about Colombia have been wildly exaggerated. I’m not saying it’s 100 percent safe — certainly, it has its fair share of crime — but if I had avoided it due to this widely accepted belief, I would not have the fantastic memories I do today.
In life and in business, too many people cling to misconceptions that hold them back and ruin their chances for success and happiness. They think that by playing it safe and clinging to so-called “best practices,” they’re bound to succeed. But that’s not how business works.
Success Comes to Those Who Think Differently
Consider the words of Steve Jobs in Apple’s “Think Different” commercial:
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes — the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”
This isn’t just an advertisement — it’s the backbone of the Apple business model. And no one can argue that it hasn’t worked.
So how do you think differently? Let’s start off by identifying four of the most common business beliefs you should reject.
1. We should do what our competitors are doing.
Leaders cling to this maxim — especially when the competitor has a higher profile or is well-established. The truth is that if a competitor is established, it means the operators have more money to burn, and they will inevitably find extraordinarily ineffective ways to burn it. Yet people still feel the need to follow their lead.
Forget the competition. The key is to assess your core assets and consider how you can leverage them to seize an advantage. When you do study the competition, you should be looking at what they’re doing so you can do something entirely different.
2. The best dressed is the most successful.
Putting up a fancy front has an undeniable attraction. How can a business be taken seriously unless it has a cool office, slick marketing collateral and a presence at all the major events and tradeshows? The truth is that focusing on fluff can pull your mind away from the more important matters at hand, namely the cost structure of your business. I would venture to guess that this misguided diversion of focus is the cause of many business failures.
The reality is that the best dressed is just the best dressed. Period. Success in business is about identifying opportunities, continually innovating, creating compelling value propositions, executing effectively and efficiently, and developing long-term strategic competitive advantages. Don’t confuse the façade for the reality.
3. People are primarily motivated by money.
All too often, business leaders think that the chief concern of their customers and employees is money: how much they’re paying or how much they’re paid. This is probably because money is a central concern in business, so leaders get wrapped up in its importance.
Humans are emotional creatures, and we crave purpose and value. Employees want to be paid fairly, but they also want to feel as though they’re part of a team. Customers take price into consideration, but they also pay attention to quality and convenience. By thinking that money is the most important motivator, business leaders lose the opportunity to build a more talented team and connect with customers on a deeper level.
4. Don’t enter a market where there is competition.
This is like being the skier who insists on hitting only the slopes with virgin powder or veering off-piste. These are always the first skiers to shoot over cliffs or find themselves buried by avalanches.
Going into uncharted markets can involve a lot of expense and risk. You’ll end up spending a lot of time and money “educating the customer,” or perhaps you’ll find that your idea was a bad one from the get-go.
Thinking practically, if you enter a market that’s rife with competition, that actually validates your business model. Your goal shouldn’t be to avoid competition — it should be to outperform it.
These Misconceptions Are Actually Shortcuts
People love shortcuts, but success comes to those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work. Anyone can copy competitors, but the standouts put in the effort to come up with innovative strategies.
Dressing well is effortless, while developing solid business fundamentals is difficult. Motivating people with money seems fairly easy, while figuring out creative ways to inspire them is a challenge. At first glance, entering a market with no competition sounds easier than one wrought with competition, but this is often not the truth.
Breaking away from the pack is mentally taxing. So are creativity, focus and executing effectively. To quote Thomas Edison, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Mediocrity comes to those who stay within the boundaries, and mediocrity in business is a recipe for failure. If you want to stand out from the competition, challenge every notion you have, color outside the lines, or, as Jobs said, “Think different.”