Every business has loops. Some are driven by fear, some by tradition, some by distraction, some by lack of awareness or industry convention.
Everyone says they’re looking for “competitive difference” – but then, in the race to get it right, they copy each other’s ideas, they mimic each other’s thinking, they catch up with each other’s formulas, they pile onto Facebook alongside everyone else. Sometime later they wonder why their sector seems so much more competitive. Why wouldn’t it be? As conformity grinds down diversity, there are more and more companies in every sector but less and less real choices for customers.
The irony of loops is that the more people behave in the same way, the more assured they feel and the less distinctive they become.
People too get used to thinking certain ways, doing certain things. And slowly, inevitably, workplaces get into loops as cultures become set in their ways. They talk themselves into believing that the best way to make their loop competitive is to leave it as is but to make it go faster – to outpace the other loops. They bind conformity into their language. They do more of the same, more quickly, and congratulate themselves on their productivity.
Same applies to customers. People get used to things, very used to things, and then bored with things. All the way through the first 2/3 of that cycle they want more of the same, and more, and more … And then they want to move on. Blackberry went from customer hero to technological hermit in no time flat. The Palm went from the pocket to the bin as novelty faded and new options beckoned.
It’s human nature to loop because loops are driven by two powerful centrifugal forces: habit; and comfort.
Loops get companies stuck. Think of any company that’s gone under recently. Chances are it was killed by a loop. Think of brands that are fighting to stay relevant. What they’re really fighting against oftentimes is their loops, their own logic, as they shed value with every turn. Think of brands that have commoditised. Loops again.
Here are six sure signs that you are in a loop:
- You have a “stable” business. (Stability is a dangerous state for any brand, because so often it signals complacency.)
- Sales are arcing down or at least they have plateau-ed but no-one seems worried. It’s explained away as a cyclical blip or as a symptom of the economy.
- “But we have a better product/better people” is used to explain away almost any adverse result.
- There’s a lot of talk about history and tradition. The internal mentality is one of preservation rather than pre-emption.
- Concern about looming or converging competition is dismissed as “scaremongering”.
- The customer pool is shrinking. Everyone’s too busy to notice.
But how do you find and correct something that is so much a part of your day, so much a part of how you think and work, so much a part of what you expect?
Actually, you start right there. By asking: what have we never questioned?
It’s an idea I call The Feynman principle, based on the workings of scientist Richard Feynman. The principle: always question what you do know before you enquire about what you don’t know. Feynman saw assumption as the greatest enemy of inquiry, but instead of limiting his focus to how assumption might jeopardise new fields, he continued to question the levels of in-built assumption in what was accepted as known.
So much “innovation” focuses on creating new things in order to move forward. Loop-breaking is about honestly questioning those things that, through force of habit and comfort, have gone un-litigated. Start small. Start with what feels so familiar, too familiar. Start by putting the question out to everyone who works on the brand. And don’t ask once. Pin the question where everyone can see it. Ask every day.
Photo “Merry-Go-Round VII” by isapisa (Isabell Schultz), sourced from Flickr