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Challenging the Norm
One evening I observed a squirrel in my backyard very intent on building a nest high up in my large Chinese elm tree. He (or she) would scurry over to a thin branch, gnaw off a section with leaves, and run to the spot chosen to build the nest and deposit the branch. He would then hurry off to the next thin branch to nibble off another section to add to the first. As I watched, the first branch, which he placed so carefully, became dislodged and floated to the ground. When the squirrel returned, he didn’t seem to notice the missing branch and placed the second branch in the same spot. Again, as he left to procure a third branch, the second branch could be seen floating to the ground. Fascinated, I watched as the squirrel repeated the same nest-building process time and time again. Each time, the newly laid branch fell to the ground.
I became curious as to why he didn’t perhaps cut a more substantial branch, one not so easily dislodged, or why he didn’t try to find a better building site. Just above where he had chosen to build, was a large, three-pronged tree crotch that would have supported and protected a substantial nest. Single-minded and not willing to consider an alternate strategy, he eventually gave up and abandoned his undertaking.
The futility of the squirrel’s activity reminded me of our own human foibles. How often we, too, get mired in doing the same things over and over again, expecting somehow that this time results will be different and we will be successful in our endeavors. So often we assume that what we are doing is justified because this is the way it’s always been done.
Why aren’t we challenging what it is we are doing, or what others around us are doing, and take a different path? Of course, the obvious answer is that it’s always easier to tweak business strategies similar to those of the past and proclaim them wise than it is to create truly innovative approaches that may be risky but may also truly differentiate us from our competitors.
The industry is moving inexorably toward a new structure, one very different and almost unrecognizable to those who remain steeped in convention. Innovation, in terms of technology and next generation expectations, is pressuring changes in manufacturing operations, business practices, and technical skills. Such dramatic change requires paradigm shifts in the approach to business. It demands new strategies, new operational processes, and skills that have not been reformulated from those of the past.
A quote most often attributed to Albert Einstein, but an attribution debated among literary critics, comes to mind, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” At this early stage, “insanity” is too strong a word for business owners courageously seeking differentiation and new opportunities in the face of a business environment that has become less predictable and more uncertain. Perhaps a better word for some might be “denial.”