Creative Fire Extinguisher #8 – Everybody Knows

There is no greater enemy to uncommon opportunity than common knowledge.

Years ago as head Easter Bunny for spring specialty products at Hallmark I was asked to redefine the business in a way that would start it growing again.

As I put together what we knew about consumer behavior at Easter I came across an interesting tidbit that had been foundational to our thinking in the past and, to be honest, was a roadblock to what I wanted to do in the future.

Everybody knew about this interesting tidbit. In their minds it was a fact. The tidbit appeared in business and marketing plans for as far back as my files went – without providing a source. I asked our librarian (oh, the benefits of big companies!) to see if he could dig up where it might have come from.

He searched quite a bit and finally found a reference to the tidbit in a Hallmark research summary. It referenced as a source an industry magazine ages old. The magazine article had been based on, keep your hats on, information provided by the Hallmark PR department. The Hallmark PR Department didn’t have a record of where the tidbit may have come from, but it sure made a lot of sense….

So in the end we had years of business plans that had in various ways relied on this tidbit presented as fact. It was accepted as fact because it had been referred to in many legitimate documents. It wasn’t questioned because it seemed to make logical sense. How true was the tidbit really? It didn’t matter. For me the lack of underpinnings allowed my team to move past its limitations.

So, beware of what everybody knows. Often you’ll discover that few people know why they know what everybody knows. And that makes what everybody doesn’t know an opportunity!

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