There are two phenomena in business and life that are both enormous potential traps.
The first is following the crowd — doing what everyone else is doing and counting likes and retweets.
Then again, purposefully doing things wrong because it just seems cool — because you want to break all the rules and be a contrarian — is its own trap. It was cool when Sriracha put a rooster on a bottle of hot sauce. It was not cool when the 23rd copycat did the same thing.
Both of these strategies are traps because the people who use them are usually looking at a map somebody else drew, and then basing their next move on that.
What if you simply did what you wanted to do with your next big idea, regardless of what anyone else thought about it?
I get that it’s easier to write about this than to do it. And this isn’t an argument for ignoring all market research in an industry or thinking you can ignore decades of evidence about investments.
An example might help. My favorite one right now is a company with a name no one can pronounce, a dead bird skeleton as its logo and a product line of outerwear and accessories that are breathtakingly expensive.
In many respects, Arc’teryx appears to be a marketing professor’s worst nightmare. But when I talked to the people who help run the company, they made it clear that they didn’t write their business plan with a goal of breaking the rules or being cool. They built the company out of a sincere desire to make the gear they wanted the way they thought it should be made.
And they picked a dead bird because they liked it, plain and simple.
Learning to listen intently to ourselves may be the most valuable thing we can do when it comes to art, knowledge work or starting and running a business. What if we all just tossed everyone else’s maps into the trash and followed our own?
Carl Richards is a certified financial planner and author of “The Behavior Gap.” His sketches and essays appear regularly. You can follow him on Twitter: @behaviorgap
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