Contrarian thinkers are trailblazers in business. They are the polarizing visionaries who are just as likely to be called crazy as brilliant, and they have the foresight to see hidden opportunities and seize them at just the right moment.
Take Brad Katsuyama, co-founder and CEO of IEX. Katsuyama saw the financial industry's focus on the middleman and decided to build products and services tailored to the needs of investors and issuers, not intermediaries.
Then there's Sam Kennedy, executive director of Techweek, who grew the nation's leading technology conference and festival by showcasing innovation happening outside of Silicon Valley.
I'm a big believer in contrarian thinking in my own business as well. In 2009, my partners and I decided to start our agency in the midst of the global financial crisis. While our competitors were making cuts and pulling back on pitching new business, we threw ourselves into pursuing new business ruthlessly.
The result? We became the fastest-growing multicultural ad agency in the country. And it was all thanks to pursuing contrarian ideas.
I asked Katsuyama and Kennedy why contrarian thinking was beneficial to their businesses. Here's what they had to say:
- It attracts the right types of people. The single most important thing a new company can do is hire exceptional people, says Katsuyama. Having a very clear mission allows you to attract people who are passionate about your contrarian cause.
- It simplifies decision-making. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made when you are building a company, says Katsuyama. Every choice IEX made always came back to the impact it had on the company's core mission.
- It helps you recognize the real thing. Hearing "no" is good, says Kennedy--especially when you hear it multiple times from the same person. It means that when you hear "yes," you can trust that it's authentic.
- It leads to higher returns. The risks of going against the crowd are greater, but so are the rewards. As Katsuyama puts it, "High returns are highly correlated with offering a unique product at an opportunistic time."
Contrarian thinking isn't limited to pursuing a crazy business idea or bringing back vinyl records when everyone else is going digital. Contrarian thinking applies to every aspect of business ownership:
- Hire talent other companies wouldn't. At my company, we hired quite a few individuals who had no work experience in the U.S. These people's rsums wouldn't have impressed most ad agencies, but their hard work, determination, and performance speak for themselves.
- Look for major trends--then do the opposite. If everyone is doing something, chances are it's already played out. If every brand is doing flash mobs and viral campaigns, avoid them like the plague. A great example of contrarian marketing is IKEA's brilliant Apple parody.
- Prove people wrong. This is a very important factor in the contrarian theory. No one will expect you to succeed, which is one of the reasons you will.
If you're willing to take risks and commit yourself to a unique vision, you will blaze new trails for your business. Though the ride can be rough at times, the rewards of ingenuity and hard work are always worth the effort.