Logic has a peculiar way of boxing you in even as it helps you make great decisions. It leads you down a path, logically, step by step.
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet, knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever come back
Frost – The Road Not Traveled
Love this poem. Reminds me that there are Key Decisions in the life of any business or creative endeavor. Once that Key Decision is made many possibilities and opportunities are not presented – not noticed – because they lie elsewhere.
Sometimes a leader declares a particular path “Right” and all others “Wrong,” if only to get one foot in front of the other. We know there are other paths, but we follow.
The nature of a logic path is that once a particular choice is made, it tends to lead you for a good long while. Other opportunity paths disappear into the distance. Logic dictates you stay on the path.
If Logic Is So Effective, Why Abandon It?
While the logical path can guide you creatively, it is also stifling.
Hallmark is a leader in managing inventory. Decades ago (was it that long ago when I was there? Ouch) their amazingly sophisticated inventory control system (pre UPC magic days) maximized profitability for every retailer and every design. Sales continually increased as creative got ‘quick enough’ feedback. Testing in a small subset of stores could predict sales for every new design for the entire network. Production runs became lean, poor performers never saw the light of day. Profit was maximized.
Within the logic of the system lay its weakness. Radical changes in customer taste required a method of slow introduction and discovery. See the flaw? To maximizing per design potential creative had to stay on an ever narrowing path. Off path thinking couldn’t even get out of the test stores. The solution? Break it. Move radical innovation to a completely different shelf, put it on a path giving it room to breath, space to shine. Cards that failed in the old system became best sellers in the new.
Abandoning logic isn’t an everyday solution, it’s for special occasions. A way of saying, “I know the world is pretty much going this way, but wouldn’t this over here be nice?” – and then figuring out a way to cut cross country to the new reality. Brainstorming was an early salvo against getting boxed in by logic. Free up the idea process from rules and justification, just see what comes out. Even when badly implemented a brainstorm can have surprisingly powerful results.
That’s why I look for ideas in strange places. Books about nature, food and physics aren’t trying to solve the world’s business problems. But ideas are ideas and sometimes you can apply the history of beans to understanding changing taste in cars. Or contemplate how elk’s fear of wolves might strike some sense into the banking community.
So, Abandon your particular brand of Logic for a moment at least.
Create new opportunities and ideas.
Then Verify that a new path exists and appears worth traveling.
Taking a new path can be a long hard haul. Typical measurements of success may fail to understand what you are doing. The path Target took to change a customer experience few others were thinking about – prescription bottles. Peter Merholz talks about the challenges Deborah Adler had in taking her master’s thesis from concept to roll out. The idea is so elegant, solves so many problems, was rolled out so smoothly, it is difficult to think of the hundreds or thousands of decisions that had to go the right way. Turns out it is hard to jump off a logic path even for an idea as simple as a prescription bottle re-design.
Verifying that it is time to jump off the path is a critical element. For businesses, leaving a path can mean reduced earnings as the new model saps investment dollars and cannibalizes existing products. This makes management reluctant to jump until the cliff is so close that ground gives way beneath them.(GM anybody?) In today’s world where competitive advantage seldom lasts, ideas are copied overnight, and consumer behavior is being radically reformed can any business afford the luxury of sticking with “what works?”
For an individual, the leap can cause disruptions in career and life. (Remember how upset you got when your favorite musician tried something out of the ordinary… not everyone will follow you on a new path.) Daydreams aren’t logical, but they fuel the spirit.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference
Frost – The Road Not Traveled