Being the default feels splendid because *gestures everywhere* life is tailored to your comfort, taste and priorities. Technology, cosmetics, professional industries, and even government structures are created with an ‘average’ consumer/user in mind. Now, don’t get me wrong. Being the norm while recovering from laser eye surgery, for example, is a gift; but not so much when it comes to radical innovation. Creativity and meaningful ingenuity stem from the outliers.
A royal rumble
Frank Sinatra and Prince were both cultural forces and came to be known as strong solo male singers, but Prince was a true artist. He played multiple instruments, wrote scores of songs, produced, mentored others in the industry, toured and generally oozed creativity and passion. In entrepreneurial terms, Sinatra is the guy who played it safe and stuck closer to what’s expected of a good performer. While they both had wildly successful careers and were legendary in their own right, Prince was the enterprising creative who took his craft further, and arguably left a deeper impression across a wider audience, both culturally and in the business of music.
When Prince burst onto the scene, he was authentically himself and wouldn’t be constrained by anyone’s expectations. This mindset is more often found in entrepreneurs who never fit the mold to begin with, so they approach life with a different lens and willingness to take real risks. They can spot persistent market gaps and identify valuable solutions that those firmly ensconced in the norm just couldn’t fathom.
The gentle knock of possibility
Band-aids were invented in 1920 by Johnson & Johnson, but they remained one shade of soft pink until the early 2000s, when New York entrepreneur Michael Panayiotis created Ebon-Aid. This band-aid was created specifically for folks with skin tones darker than soft pink, and addressed a wide market. However, shelf placement and other retail issues resulted in Ebon-Aid disappearing virtually overnight.
Tru-Colour Bandages took up the mantle in 2014, and has since gained enough momentum that in June 2020, in the midst of the George Floyd protests, Band-Aid announced it would add more skin tones into their line. The inventors at Ebon-Aid and Tru-Colour who spotted the gap in the band-aid market were respectively, an immigrant from Cyprus and a white father with bi-racial children. Their positions relative to the default gave them appropriate vantage points to see market gaps and create meaningful products to improve consumer’s lives. Then a mega corporation swooped in to mass produce (and validate) an idea that their internal teams had nearly a century to invent.
Through the lens
The Vietnam War was one of the most brutal conflicts in recent history, but some of the greatest journalism of the last century was produced during this period. Coincidentally, for the first time, female war correspondents like Catherine Leroy and Frances Fitzgerald were pursuing and reporting stories for the American public. The result? Stunning, groundbreaking work which shaped public perception of the war and how it was reported on.
Similar to entrepreneurs seeking startup capital or funding to scale, those deviating from the norm are forced to blaze their own trail because they weren’t accepted in the field. Diversifying journalistic perspectives (lol white women are hardly diverse but that’s for another blog) offered Americans different optics of the bloody conflict on foreign soil. As the first televised war in history, the images broadcast to American living rooms from Vietnam were so powerful that the US government never made that mistake again. Talk about leaving a legacy!
Adversity breeds opportunity
Approaching life as the default blinds people to what exists beyond the periphery, so they’re less likely to turn their head and spot shiny opportunities. The business world thrives on ingenuity and innovation, and those outside looking in have more creative freedom coupled with fewer expectations. Sinatra had a particular genre of music that his listeners expected to hear, whereas Prince wasn’t remotely tied to expectations in the same way. The female photojournalists in Vietnam chased stories and shots that the average reporter at the time wouldn’t dare touch. When you’re outside looking in, the vantage point is unique and there’s no requirement to ask permission.
Diversity of thought is a crucial ingredient in radical innovation, which is part of the reason that the PAI Ecosystem was created — to fund out-of-the-box ideas and entrepreneurs who can’t access traditional funding. But the PAI does it in such a way that even the everyday mom and pop could actively participate with the potential of changing their financial position for the better. Now that crowdfunding limits are being raised, the starting shot for underfunded startups just fired, and everyday people are leading the charge. Kaboom!