The Deviant’s Guide to Business Success

Aug 26, 2002

How business ideas move from the edge to the mainstream and how companies can profit from the process are the subjects of a new book aimed at helping top management break out of ivory tower isolation.

“The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets,” Crown Business, was written by Ryan Mathews (RetailWire BrainTrustee) and Watts Wacker. The futurists at First Matter, a trend-watching firm based in Westport, Conn., boasts an impressive list of past clients including British Airways, General Motors, Hallmark Cards, I.B.M., Marriott International, Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee, Sony and the United States Navy.

Mr. Mathews and Mr. Wacker say they recognize that not all deviance is good,
reports the New York Times. “Of course, there is positive and negative
deviance — the former a force for transformation, the latter a source of unspeakable
evil,” they write. They focus on the positive kind, which they call “devox,”
and describe it as offering “an inexhaustible font of new ideas, products, and
services and, in the end, is the source of all innovation, new-market creation
and, for business, ultimately represents the basis of all incremental profit.”

The challenge for business is how to recognize positive deviant ideas and move them toward the market. Language is hugely important in managing the fringe because it often defines what is acceptable in society. Language can change or even eliminate the obstacles that made a product’s acceptability difficult. For example, Pfizer took “erectile dysfunction” and turned it into an openly discussed syndrome. The authors call this the “abolition of context.”

Moderator Comment: Do most large organizations fully leverage the ideas of their own “deviant” thinkers? Does corporate speak and the group mentality require that companies go outside their own organizations to find consultants/advisors that will challenge the status quo?

No and yes.

Bringing ideas from the outside, however, does not mean
you (the consultant/advisor) won’t get ignored or canned for taking a position
contrary to the group wisdom. Successful companies do not necessarily embrace
alternative thinking but they generally don’t run from it either (at least not
before considering it). [George
Anderson – Moderator

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