Wearing masks and keeping social distance are already optional in many places outside the Philippines. Even some airlines no longer require wearing masks in flight. When my wife Chiqui and I decided to once again to attend an innovation festival we have been frequenting in New York since 2016, the feeling of movement and some normalcy was definitely liberating! While we still had our masks with us, we also had the “optional-mask-mindset” on, seeing how most everyone else was going about their business breathing “openly.” And so it happened that we caught COVID the day after arrival, making us miss the four-day conference we came to New York for.
I often talk about the Law of Foolish Fellowship in the context of how businesses just follow norms of the industry, or conforming without knowing or challenging context. Just like our experience as tourists following a country’s health practices, this can have unintended consequences. The context or logic of the locals is different from tourists like us. Locals infected by Covid-19 do not have to reschedule a flight, book additional hotel nights, get a Covid test showing negative results before being allowed to fly, among others. Any disruption in travel plans are always stressful. Of course, we went back to wearing face masks even after mandatory isolation and even after testing negative. Critical thinking need not go on vacation while on vacation.
I can’t help but reflect during our voluntary “quarantine” that many businesses are suffering from the same foolish fellowship. Companies often set in stone their key factors for success (also called logic of industry) usually patterned after strategies of market leaders. Following what others are doing assuming the majority are correct in their decisions and actions can be dangerous. While these factors spell success for some, a similar path taken by others may not guarantee the same results. Things may be changing, and what was once seen as common sense, may now be common nonsense.
Consider the following examples.
Back pockets of men’s pants are a norm in men’s apparel but these give a lot of discomfort when wallets are inserted while seated or driving.
The bicycle saddle is triangular shaped which becomes uncomfortable after prolonged bicycle use since our bottom has two sides.
Many network direct sales companies follow the compensation plans of other pyramiding companies before them, perhaps unaware (or maybe not) that many were illegal in the first place. A common illegal feature among these pyramiding companies is the use of headers, or multiple business units registered by the same person.
Challenging the law of foolish fellowship can provide wisdom or uncommon sense, as can be recalled in the history of the automotive industry. Cars used to come only in black, a norm to helped attain scale. Ford, GM, Chrysler all had black cars. Ford, with their Model T, was the dominant leader in the 1920’s having sold some 15 million cars and provided the standards of the industry. That is until General Motors (GM) launched a new lifestyle car concept. GM had a different insight on the changing consumer needs and wants and likened cars to clothes, learning from fashion industry — different colors, and with different styles changing yearly.
GM also launched different car models for different market segments (young, affluent, etc.) such as the Chevy, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac. GM took over leadership from Ford in 1927 because Ford got stuck with their success and refused to challenge the norm that made them successful. Ford finally abolished the Model T and launched Model A after years of convincing the founder, in a long process that strained family relationships.
Often, I encounter how many next generation entrepreneurs I mentor also share the difficulty of making the elder generations let go of old key factors for success that may have been logical and worked well at one point in time. Following the same pattern of success amidst changing times is akin to the law of foolish fellowship, hanging on to the norms of the past, unable to see the new context that what will bring them to the next level in the future.
Don’t be foolish by following what others are doing just because. Wear your masks still while being on the lookout for what is changing, to know when the best opportunity is to “unmask” and to challenge the norm.
Josiah Go is chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. He specializes in market-driving strategy, profit strategy, business model and innovation.