One of the things that is really difficult to do is to innovate. Innovation is hard to achieve whereas maintaining the status quo or imitation is easy, but, of course, it’s never as good as the original. This is one of the reasons we respect visionaries, such as Steve Jobs. He was great at innovating and pushing the bounds. In my opinion, one of the abilities he had was the ability to overcome conventional thinking.
Conventional thinking involves meeting a problem with an already well established body of rules and procedures and this in it of itself isn’t necessarily bad. We use it as a foundation and that foundation is key as a starting point, but if a person is incapable of breaking free from conventional thinking than progress ceases. What makes it difficult to escape conventional thinking is the dilemma of pure creation. It’s difficult to imagine something that is completely detached from the reality we know. You can feel this yourself. Imagine someone asked you to break away from everything you know and write a science fiction novel about a world completely distinct from our own. Think about how difficult it would be to embrace pure creation without some influence from Earth and humanity. It would be really difficult. The takeaway is that the problem of conventional thinking is one of a stifling of innovation and progression. It is important to use conventional thinking as a base, but to be sure to build on it.
It’s my belief that a lot of companies that fail, fail because they have strict corporate cultures that emphasize convention over progression. This hinders progression which stifles innovation and leads other companies to gain an edge and eventually cannibalize the market. A great example of this can be seen in the smartphone market. RIM for many years was a market leader in the smartphone market with the Blackberry phone, but in a matter of a year or two their market share dwindled because of the Android and iPhone smartphones. Management at RIM clearly just didn’t respond to changes in the market and I believe that an inability to challenge conventional thinking was one of the causes. Conventional thinking is useful, but it’s also a problem to be cognizant of and one that can be overcome.