Four different coloured recycling bins

Be prepared to throw away your ‘best’ ideas

identity strategy Feb 01, 2022

A few years ago I was running a strategy rumble with senior sales execs. The founders had brought them in because they were closest to the customer, and to make the process as inclusive as possible. It was an interesting experience in group think, a phenomena common in any team with a strong sense of identity and purpose. 

Sales people generally know their mind. They need to. This group gave decisive responses. As every idea was given, it was immediately reinforced by colleagues around the table. Soon the flip chart page was full. Job done. 

The only snag was that everything on the flipchart was rubbish. Not rubbish in the sense that they weren’t good ideas. Everyone was solid. They were rubbish because they were unusable. Not a single idea was distinctive to their company. Everything was being offered by their competitors. They knew their customers, but they did not know their market. Which means they weren’t thinking hard enough about their customers.

Here’s a test: put the logo of a competitor at the top of any of your thinking. How much of it is true for them? If the answer is any, you are in trouble. 

Your best ideas don’t need to become better: they need to become more different.

This concept was explained brilliantly in the book Uncommon Sense, Common Nonsense. The theory is simple: the most important intellectual property a company possesses is its belief system, as this underpins every decision they take. Some of these beliefs will be common with competitors i.e. generic to the category. However good they are, these will be neutralised by rivals who believe and act in the same way. 

What matters are your uncommon beliefs: those that only your firm believes. Your unique insights, observations or ideas.

Over time you will find out which of these beliefs turned out to be true or false. The companies that win big are those with the most ‘uncommon sense’ that turn out to be true. Being different is more important than being better.

A Hebrew proverb said much the same thing over a thousand years before: If you try to be someone else, who will be you? 

What happened in that rumble? I tore up the sheet and told them we had to start again. They rose to the challenge and came up with original insights and interesting ideas. They formed the company’s identity and it was sold within three years.



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