"To create something entirely new--something that the world has not seen before--requires contrarian thinking."
"When Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nate Blecharczyk at Airbnb set out to build their company, the world was a different place. The generally accepted truth was that normal people would never be willing to rent out their place--or a single room in their place--to strangers. Nor would they be willing to stay with people they didn't know when they're travelling to other cities."
Applying contrarian thinking doesn't necessarily mean doing something entirely novel. Doing that may involve a lot of risk with very little chance of a pay off. However applying it to aspects or facets of existing business models or established modes of operation can unlock extremely valuable ideas for new business models.
Fact is, many businesses work well without radical innovation. Our society is based on there being a wide range of established businesses and services such as stores, repair shops and contractors. A salon is such an example and they cater to a need that almost everyone has. That doesn't mean that it's a business that has no room for innovation.
If a salon were to tweak their business model to challenge assumptions, they could tap into the power of contrarian thinking. One such assumption could be the idea that people enjoy having their hair done and want to go the the salon and discuss their hair with a hair dresser.
Let's challenge that idea.
Imagine a salon bets on this not being a universal truth. Imagine for example they were to offer a way for people focused on extreme time management to get the latest news at the same time as they get their hair done by setting up TV's running news summaries and allowing their customers to decide beforehand how they want their hair done by using an app allowing them to select style, color and length.
Suddenly, the mom-and-pop salon is a startup.
In the words of Lean Startup inventor Eric Ries who defines a startup as:
"a human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty"
Challenging and testing assumptions
Imagine you were to try a contrarian business model like this one, you wouldn't want to bet your savings on building the salon. You'd start by making sure that hypothetical demand actually existed by formulating the new contrarian assumptions about the potential customers that until now have gone unserved.
This is something Leancept can help you do. At Leancept, we use a set of methods for identifying the key assumptions about your customers and then empirically testing them. One way of doing that would be to use advertising or just buying a store front and see how many that pay attention to it or show interest.
A recent article on a company named Anomo is a great illustration of the power of contrarian thinking combined with making a pivot. Anomo was initially thought of as a dating service for shy people. But after a while, its founders realized it could be so much more. They reimagined Anomo as a "social network for introverts." That idea itself may seem counter-intuitive but is a great example of the success of daring to think contrarian and how a change of strategy can open up the path to hereby unknown possibilities.
It's apparent that contrarian thinking lies at the heart of radical innovation and extreme uncertainty. And you probably agree with me when I say that contrarian thinking is one of the things that define an entrepreneur.