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The Wright brothers ignored doubters
The Wright brothers ignored doubters

Intelligent ignorance; positive results

Thinking outside the square is easier said than done, but RICH KIZER and GEORGANNE BENDER have some advice about how intelligent ignorance can produce positive outcomes.

The Wright brothers weren’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer; they planned to sprout wings and fly. The year was 1903 and they were full of intelligent ideas, they also had the ability to ignore the common belief about man not being able to fly.

This intelligent ignorance led them to try radical new ideas. The Wright brothers took to the sky and the rest is history. They flew in the face of all the negative beliefs that swirled around them.

Today, the world relies on air travel for so many things and we’re glad Orville and Wilbur Wright demonstrated that “intelligent ignorance”, or as or as we fondly refer to it, ‘i-squared’ or ‘i2’ for short.

Fast forward to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, late in the 20th Century, where a man named Nick has just landed a job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. Starting as a trainee, Nick goes through the usual sales training exercises and activities.

The last two days of training involve being sent to a test neighbourhood to practice his door-to-door craft. Because all sales trainees canvass this same neighbourhood, they leave the office with a warning: No one will buy a vacuum cleaner from you, so just practice greeting customers and getting your foot in the door. But no one warned Nick.

Nick hit the streets not knowing he wouldn’t be able to sell a vacuum cleaner in this neighbourhood if his life depended on it. He didn’t know it was a cold market, so he unleashed what he learned in sales training. And sell he did, bringing in a record number of sales. There’s power in intelligent ignorance.

Neither the Wright brothers nor Nick let history nor preconceived ideas dictate their actions. Never let assumptions or people who say “That can’t be done” or “We’ve done that before and it didn’t work”, stop you from trying new and innovating things for your life and your business.

"Under the rules of brainstorming no one gets to say, “That’s a stupid idea”"

During a recent two-day brainstorming effort to solve a client’s dilemma, the two of us had plenty of ideas, but this situation required different thinking because sometimes the tried and true ideas just stop working.

On day three we asked a few entrepreneurs for their thoughts, even though they had no particular knowledge of our client’s industry. After explaining the issues, we asked them to take 30 minutes alone to think about what we had just shared before we convened a brainstorming session.

Under the rules of brainstorming no one gets to say, “That’s a stupid idea”, because what one person thinks is crazy just might lead to an incredible idea by someone else.

In just 20 minutes the room was buzzing with fresh ideas, and implementation strategies were bouncing off the walls. The solutions that came from this brainstorming session surprised us; they didn’t fit the paradigms of successful strategies we’d seen and used before. But that’s the point.

When an outsider offers suggestions it’s too easy to think, “Yeah, okay. What do you know about my business?” They know enough not to say, “We tried that before and it didn’t work.”

And you need to be smart enough to take their big ideas and tweak them until you reach your desired outcome.

We merged the strategies our partners shared with ours, tweaking as we went along. Then we did a few test implementations to see what would happen and the strategies worked. We knew now what to suggest to our client and how to present it.

Two weeks later we met with our client to present these tweaked i2 ideas, it was tense at first, as our client’s team mulled over the strategies we shared. Then the lights started to come on as one person after another said, “Why didn’t we think of that?” and “That makes perfect sense, how did we miss it?”

Don’t let past history dictate your actions or compromise your decisions. Ask for help. Sometimes those with the least amount of experience can see the path to success more clearly than you can. It’s okay to be intelligently ignorant.

Schedule monthly brainstorming meetings to talk about what’s going on in store, especially about what’s stale and how you might do better.

Encourage everyone to come to the meeting with new, fresh, innovative, and exciting ideas to solve your problems. You’ll begin to hear problem solving ideas that you haven’t heard before. And maybe even a few opportunities that you didn’t know were there.

Ignore what you know and brainstorm fresh ideas with your team – and maybe even a few core customers or trusted local retail partners. There’s a new question bouncing around our office these days: “What’s your i2 on this issue?”

Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender

Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender are retail strategists, authors and consultants. Learn more:

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