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Never sit on the mountain of conventional wisdom

May 23, 2008 Business Daily, Success

“Never trust the vast mountain of conventional wisdom. It contains great nuggets of wisdom, it is true. But they lie alongside rivers of fool’s gold. Conventional wisdom daunts initiative and offers far too many convenient reasons for inaction, especially for those who have a great deal to lose. Fortunately for you, you do not have anything to lose and can afford to ignore the ‘jobsworths’ and Jeremiahs who have lived upon the mountain so long that they have come to worship it.”

Felix Dennis (‘How To Get Rich’, 2006)

Felix Dennis is probably a dollar billionaire (he says he’s too rich to count his money). He has written a very different kind of ‘How To’ book. This one is bold, provocative, honest and frequently outrageous. The result is a rollicking read that is hugely entertaining, as the except above shows, and will be featured in Thought Leadership in many a week to come.

Dennis made most of his money in magazines, and here he attacks the stultifying conventional wisdom that so often prevents young people from taking a risk and trying something new. In his book, he tells of how he ignored all of the UK’s magazine-publishing conventions throughout his career. He now owns half the personal-computing magazines in Britain – a genre that was widely predicted by pundits to be a non-starter. As Dennis puts it: “The first few million pounds I ever trousered were as a result of trusting instincts directly at odds with conventional wisdom of any sort.”

We really do have to worry about conventional wisdom. It is often just the summation of human timidity, expressed as wisdom. Conventional wisdom thought that the future of computing lay in huge supercomputers, whereas the real revolution was in the laptop I am typing these words out on. Conventional wisdom thought the iPod would never work – it has sold more than a hundred million pieces. Conventional wisdom failed to learn from that, and was dismissing Apple’s iPhone when it was launched last year. It has sold nearly 6 million in its first year, and it hasn’t even hit the big Asian markets yet.

Closer to home, conventional wisdom held it that little local Bidco could never unseat the mighty giant Unilever. Uchumi was supposed to be the shopping brand of ‘wananchi’, and Nakumatt was merely a niche player. The mobile-phone market in Kenya was meant to be a few hundred thousand connections. Equity Bank was supposed to have exploded into a million pieces by now.

Instead, Bidco, Nakumatt and Equity Bank have ambitions to become market leaders in Africa; and 191 billion shillings were trying to buy a stake in Safaricom!

The people who make it big have a ‘can-do’ attitude, like Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” call. Had Obama listened to conventional wisdom, he would not be running at all right now – it was ‘not yet time’, according to analysts last year. Instead, he may well make history in his first attempt.

Don’t be imprisoned by what has been done – consider what might be done. Most battles are lost in the mind, before a shot is fired. If we want to play big, our first thought has to be “Yes We Can”!

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