You know the adage – “Don’t design for everyone or your product/service won’t appeal to anyone.” It’s a pithy truism that’s as much about taking selective risk as it is about being deeply relevant and knowledgeable.
What do those words mean in your world, when you think about the product manager job you’ve held for five years or the idea that’s been rattling around your creative, entrepreneurial brain? As an employee or small business owner, what’s holding you back from flying, chest stretched out, through the red ribbon and across the finish line?
Careful, They’ll Talk You Down From The Ledge
Even smart people sometimes ignore the yearning desire to innovate or squelch a strong instinct in deference to the well-meaning advice freely given by others. Friends, bankers, old bosses, partners, advisory committees and sister/brothers-in-law have all been known to share cautionary business tales of moderation. They coach about generating maximum return by targeting mainstream buyers, and extol the many merits of phased roll-outs to gradually soften the market. They pointedly remind you of the many reasons why you just can’t do it – how your kid needs braces, the uncertain economy, or the employees that count on you to keep them safe.
Doing something different with your business or that project you’ve been working on – something new, something other people might not be comfortable with yet – is scary. It’s risky. And it’s probably not easily tackled.
But the warm embrace of “business as usual” could be more of a threat, could bring more discomfort, than some companies ever bargained for. Ask Blockbuster, JC Penney, Borders and that-other-company-whose-name-I-can’t-remember…
The Trouble With Vanilla
Ever stand in the freezer section at the grocery store on a Friday night, crippled with indecision? I’ve yet to make a move on Red Velvet Royale or Smashing Sundae – though the flavor descriptions sound appealing. Instead, I play it safe with Double Chocolate – a known quantity. Basically content (hey, it *is* ice cream) with my choice but vaguely dissatisfied somehow. Is it a mistake to stick with what’s safe? Double Chocolate is fine, but what if Red Velvet Royale is truly excellent? Am I missing out?
No Safe Place
Tory Johnson’s book, Spark & Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now, cracks open the nut of uncertainty and fear of change that lies in all of us – aspiring business owners and the career-minded Joes/Jills that make the daily magic happen. Our fear of repercussions – to our finances, to our stations, to all things familiar and known – hold us back. The desire to conform, to gather even tacit approval (as with a purchase of our perfectly fine albeit unimaginative product/service) can override the signals from our inner lizard brain telling us to go and do something more.
Quite simply, we’re afraid to make mistakes. One, because others might see. Two, because we’d have to do something to right the mistake – and that might require taking on more risk. Three, because someone might say we should never try again.
“Mistakes are the tuition you pay for success,” said Michael Alter, president of SurePayroll, as quoted in Johnson’s book. Alter’s company gives out a “Best New Mistake”award to an employee annually because “…fear of making a mistake is the same as fear of success. No risk, no reward.” Fear chokes vision and impedes progress, Alter says. “The longer you wait to try something new, the longer you’ll wait to learn something your competitors might already know.”
Trying Can Be Its Own Reward
Fellow SME blogger and author Mark Smiciklas (The Power Of Infographics, Que, June 2012) once left a comment on one of my pieces here. The gist of his sentiment was this: Mark couldn’t work at a company where the threat of repercussions for perceived failure outweighed the support network offered to anyone with the vision, drive, and creativity to pursue a promising thesis. I remember Mark’s comment because it gave me the courage to rise from a few of my own stumbles in business. His message – that we’re all obligated to cultivate environments that encourage curiosity and view attempts as progress in the making – should be heard and felt by more leaders and executives.
Without the risk-takers, there would be no innovation. And mediocrity is a bland, uninspiring place to linger.