We Are Normal
Humans love everything to be normal.
We talk about normal almost as though it were something to aspire to; “he’s normal”, “it's our normal business process”, “we want to get back to normal”. The word is even used in NLP to convince people that something is okay (even if it isn’t).
We like normal because we don’t like sudden change - we want things to be the same as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow – you know, normal.
Normal is good. (And by reverse abnormal is, therefore, not good.)
We all want to be normal, but no one wants to be average
Normal really means the ‘majority’. If we’re talking about normal behaviour, we’re talking about how the majority of people behave. If we mean running a normal business, we mean running a business like the majority of businesses.
Another way of saying normal is ‘average’.
Breaking Through Normal
Normal, majority, average – they all mean the same thing. However, nobody wants to be average and no one wants to run an average business. (Oddly, we all want to be normal, but no one wants to be average.)
We want to believe our businesses are unique, but the vast majority are normal i.e. they all do things the same way. There are accepted ‘industry norms’ in every industry. These are the normal ways of doing things, the normal processes, the normal customer expectations and normal attitudes.
But what’s normal today was once ground-breaking.
For example, there was a time when:
- Your phone was fixed to wire in the home (for over 100 years)
- We posted letters (for about 350 years)
- The horse was the only form of transport (about 5,400 years)
History is littered with normal being replaced by innovation which then becomes normal until another innovation takes its place.
These ‘disruptor’ businesses all railed against normal by doing the unthinkable.
What should be of interest to you is that wherever there is a ‘new’ normal there’s an extraordinary business behind it.
We all look up the likes of Apple, Google, Tesla, Netflix and Amazon as being companies to aspire to yet, they are far from normal even though they paved the way for what has become normal.
These ‘disruptor’ businesses all railed against normal by looking at what was happening in the marketplace and doing the unthinkable.
They took what everyone in their industry-accepted as normal and turned it on its head. Because it stands to reason that if you follow average behaviours, you’ll get average results. If you don’t then you'll create an utterly unique and extraordinary business.
- Apple turned computers from grey lifeless boxes into chic desirable items with the iMac
- Google catalogued all human digital knowledge
- Tesla made battery operated luxury sports cars
- Netflix allowed you to watch any film instantly from your sofa
- Amazon made eCommerce a reality
How Starbucks Reinvented The Coffee Outlet
But you don’t necessarily have to invent something radical to shake-up your industry’s norms.
Let’s take Starbucks… Imagine you were sitting in the first investors meeting before they launched into global domination. You’re there to listen to a pitch for a new business. Howard Shultz steps up to the podium and gives his address.
By the end of his speech you've spotted three seemingly insane ideas:
- Starbucks will be selling its coffee for at least double the price of any competitor.
- Their menu will include things no one has ever heard of or can even pronounce (this was the late 1980s so Grande Quad Non-fat One-Pump No-Whip Mochas were, and maybe still are, incomprehensible.)
- They’ll be another Starbucks right opposite on the other side of the street in, what seems, direct competition!
It would be almost impossible to imagine anyone taking him seriously. Back in the 80s coffee was cheap, straight and available everywhere - those were the industry norms. Shulz’s genius was that he spotted these industry norms tore right through them with mind-boggling effects - 25,000 stores in 65 countries serving 80 million people a week.
Starbucks is one example of a company that defied industry norms. Dominos is another. They built their business on getting pizza to you in under 30 minutes or your money back – not whether it was the best-tasting pizza (which was the industry norm) just fast pizza.
Here's another: Welsh entrepreneur Pryce Pryce-Jones set-up the first mail-order catalogue business in 1861 breaking an industry norm that you had to go to a shop to buy your goods. (He was the Amazon of his day)
I could pick out many more examples simply because wherever you see businesses flourishing you can guarantee that they're defying industry norms.
Creating An Extraordinary Business By Defying Industry Norms
All the businesses I mentioned looked at what was normal in their industry and ignored it. They went their own way, did their own thing and found that people loved it because even though we love normality, we also love ‘new’ and that means change.
Can you imagine what would happen if you broke a few of your industry’s norms? Your business would become extraordinary and with that would come an extraordinary success and revenue.
Breaking the norms is not as complicated or creative as you might think. In fact, it's a simple two-step process.
- Write down all the norms in your industry (as many as possible so expect a list of up to a couple of hundred).
- For each item in the list ask this question: “What can we do that’s different?”
Here's an example. Imagine everyone in your industry starts at 9 AM and finishes at 5 PM. Ask the question “What can we do that’s different?” Perhaps, consider opening an hour earlier or an hour later or opening at 8 AM, closing at 2 PM and re-opening again at 5 PM till late? Or not opening at all on that day!
Or how about if you're in an industry which always sends its proposals out on paper. What if you sent yours out as a video? Or you're in an industry which has to do sales pitches for free. What if you charged for yours?
You'll create a transformative effect on your business which at once differentiates you from your competition
Once you start to identify these norms, challenging them with better ideas and approaches becomes easy. And once you start to implement them, you'll create a transformative effect on your business which at once differentiates you from your competition, Starbucks style.
Plus, these 'differentiators' become things you can shout about in your marketing to powerful effect.
Let me give you one more example from my sector of marketing consultancy. The industry norm is to expect payment for any work from the get-go. I don't. In fact, not only do I give my time away for free I'll use it to build you a strategic marketing plan. If you like it and want to keep working with me only then do I charge a fee.
It's definitely not normal but I can promise you it has had a transformative effect on my business and the businesses I work with.
Now it’s your turn. Go out there and find all your industry norms and break them!