That Time I Was Completely Wrong About Market Direction

I hate being wrong.

Really – like the rest of us, I have this innate desire to get it right every single time.

But some of my best lessons were learned through myopia and missteps. And over-dependence on logic.

Here’s a painful lesson I learned in a prior job – sometimes (many times?) the marketplace is not logical and rational. Embrace the crazy.

Embrace the Crazy

In fact, at times, the tail really will wag the dog.

A company I was once with had an offering that, from my logical perspective, was destined for obsolesence. We had an on-line test creation and delivery system for corporate training, but this new technology was rapidly emerging called the Learning Management System (LMS).

The LMS is a platform to house, track, and administer all training. Some of the LMS platforms were developing rudimentary testing capabilities. I was deeply concerned: we had a proprietary testing platform. Yes, it could be custom-interfaced at a database or API level, but why would companies ultimately want extra layers of complexity when it can all be in one place? One license, one platform, one supplier.

Makes sense, right? Even now, re-writing it out, I can’t fault the logic.

Except I was wrong. Our testing platform flourished instead of withering.

Here’s why: our corporate clients (mostly pharmaceutical industry companies) were more attached to their testing tool than they were to their training admin tool (the LMS). Testing was the higher-stakes, higher-profile function; it was used regularly to validate acquired knowledge, certify new reps, and demonstrate compliance.

People “got” testing. It was the tail. The LMS was a repository for results, but our marketplace was wagging the various LMS dogs with our (more established) testing platform.

We like to think that we are perfectly rational creatures, and that marketplaces march forward predictably through logical pathways and technological inevitabilities.

Then Apple skyrockets by making form and fashion front-and-center for devices, instead of an afterthought.

Then e-mail, its death knell ringing year after year in the era of social media, continues to dominate.

Then trains make a resurgence because of fracking.

Then…well, Kim Kardashian.

Some things – well, maybe not the last one listed – only make sense after the fact. I also figured e-mail would go away (like the FAX) in the face of all the new social media technology. Yet what is still, and by far, my most effective channel to this day with my core customers? Good old e-mail.

Many business opportunities lie below the surface, as hidden gems, waiting for someone visionary or quirky or idealistic or half-crazy to see that a seemingly-irrational approach may be the tail, while everyone else is talking about the dog. Someone once wrote a book about Zigging, when everyone else Zags.

Give space to that little bit of crazy in your strategizing. The market, after all, has a pretty good dose of it!


Also on the blog: I Don’t Know Where I’ll Be in 5 Years – and Neither do You

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  1. As an analytical person, I’m right there with you, Steve. Thanks for reminding me to think beyond logic. Our “market” is human beings, after all. : )

  2. Joe Cascio says

    Sounds like yet another instance of the best piece of philosophy I ever got from a sales person. “It’s a lot easier to sell pain relievers than it is vitamins.”

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