Saturday, November 2, 2013

I Am Everyman or Everyone Is Like Me?

A lot of times we're in a rut, and we follow a path we've taken before, or others have taken. Often that path is one in which we think everyone else acts like us, thinks like us, decides like us.

Recently, I watched a show in which the actor Ethan Hawke researched Shakespeare's MacBeth (superstitiously called the Scottish Play) as if he was preparing for the role. He learned about the real, historic MacBeth. He learned from others' portrayals of the character. He wondered if MacBeth was changed by the prophetic words of the witches, and the urging of his wife, or did their words explode the ambitious fire within him. He talked with people who have worked with murderers to understand their psyche. Unfortunately, he didn't question the assumption that MacBeth may not have been ambitious at the start of the play and was bothered by committing murders of his king and friends. Shakespeare didn't write with emoticons; written words of regret could be said sincerely or sarcastically depending on the context. All of the experts talked about MacBeth as if he had never killed anyone before. I would've screamed at the TV if I thought they would have heard me, "What are you saying? He was a general. He's killed people on the battlefield. He was rewarded for his excessive boldness, recklessness perhaps, and courage. He was surprised that he was given another title and land by chance (i.e. the coincidence of his battlefield success and the betrayal of the king by another lord). It was common in those times to gain territory and power through murder and conquest. His actions were 'normal'. Now re-read the play, you morons!"

Unfortunately, we fall into the same traps in business. We follow experts down a path to supposed success. It's worked for them in the past. It's how they analyzed their circumstances and successfully traversed the swamps of regulations, competition, new technology, etc. But do the navigation tools work in the Scottish highlands?

For example, we think all people react to social media the same way. What's worked for one industry should work for all industries, right? We forget the context of how customers in those industries have been conditioned. We're not all early adopters but early adopters presume others are excited about the same things they are. The lack of early success then is frustrating. We're not all laggards on the product/service life cycle curve but laggards presume others will take a lot of convincing and "time" before it gets adopted. If we don't test that assumption we may miss out on opportunities that require striking while it's hot, and being early into the marketplace. Our timing worked when the market was new and naive. Will our timing work when it's mature and robust? Will our methods repeatedly work? Are we only doing what's expected by the culture and following the rut of our experience and experts?

Perhaps your past success was just a coincidence, a confluence of several factors that just happened to work together. Tragedy might strike if you try to create your own prophetic fulfillment. Are you asking the right questions and listening to contrary opinions to sort the bold from the safe, or the reckless from the sure?

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