This post is part of a series outlining the 11 principles detailed in David’s book, Heed Your Call, which helps modern-day heroes (entrepreneurs) integrate their business and spiritual lives.

In your business, there’s going to be a ton of opportunities to generate revenue by going after low-hanging fruit. Sometimes that’s ok, but mostly it’s not because it represents staying in the known world. Our known worlds are those things that make up our stories, our past—they often define us too much. There is comfort in a reality that is familiar and safe.

Within the confines of what’s familiar, we limit the potential of us and our businesses. Tweet This Quote

Over time, most of us nestle into this abode, too fearful to ever leave. Within the confines of this familiar place, we limit our potential and the potential of our businesses, which can only be achieved when we surrender to the unknown world and set out to live and fulfill our purpose.

I worked for Adidas for eight years, and in the mid-90s, the brand had a rebirth in the United States. The three-stripes became cool and an anecdote to the Nike swoosh. Consumer demand skyrocketed. Part of the demand also came from JCPenney’s. At the time, they led a behemoth account and could order tens of millions of dollars worth of product. One day, they came to us and wanted to place a huge order on three-striped windwear (think wind-resistant, soft-shell material that makes a noise when you walk).

At the time, there was nothing about our windwear that was performance or high technology. It didn’t speak to being an athlete. But, it was a huge order. Our senior management team sat back and asked if this was right for the brand, or right for hitting or exceeding our numbers. We decided that it wasn’t right for the brand—but we shipped the product anyway. As a result, we had a one-time giant bump in sales, but the cost to the brand lasted longer.

As the entrepreneur, constantly ask, “Where is there an opportunity for our brand to complete its promise to the consumer?” Tweet This Quote

Three-striped windwear became synonymous with older, gray-haired mall walkers—not particularly aspirational, and certainly not attractive to high-level athletes or the younger populations. When we tried to sell an expensive Kobe Bryant product line into more prestigious channels, our association with mall walkers screwed us.

An obvious misalignment manifested in our brand because we were telling one consumer group we’re all about performance and technology and outfitting athletes. But then, a teenager would see their mom going to the mall or jazzercise class in her Adidas three-stripe pants.

The known world is JCPenney’s. It’s constantly relying on what was or has been without looking at what you should do or be as a company. Perhaps the following season, JCPenney’s would have wanted more three-stripe windwear. Living in the known world would have been fulfilling that order again, perhaps in three new colors. But, as evidenced, that wasn’t and still wouldn’t be good for the brand.

To grow as a company, challenge yourself by asking, “Is this right, or is this easy?” Tweet This Quote

As the entrepreneur or executive, you have to constantly ask, where is there an opportunity for our brand to complete its promise to the consumer? This means running a company that constantly innovates, pushes the envelope, and jumps into discomfort. In your job, there’s going to be the easy, practical, “this is what we’ve always done in the past” posture. But, similarly, to grow as a company, you have to challenge yourself by asking, “Is this right, or is this easy?”

Companies are often validated when your board commends you for hitting your sales targets, when you meet analyst expectations, when you can pay solid bonuses out, or offer job security for an extended time. For those reasons, one year after shipping out the big JCPenney’s deal, our senior team walked around like heroes. However, it didn’t look so good the next year when business with key consumer groups—like athletes—completely fell apart because we alienated them by not fulfilling our promise.

Run a company that constantly innovates, pushes the envelope, and jumps into discomfort. Tweet This Quote

As humans, we often act in order to be validated, and we associate that with our positive traits and attributes. However, the brighter the light, the bigger the shadow. We all have darker sides and weaknesses. To avoid or suppress those weaknesses or insecurities is to do ourselves a great injustice because we can learn from them. Some of our best teachers and guides hold a mirror up to ourselves and force us to reflect on the things we would rather not see.

As entrepreneurs, we need to be the ones that hold that mirror up to our businesses and ask, “Ok, I see all of the good stuff we’re doing, but let me take a minute to consider if there’s a darker side to this or something that might not be good after all.” Look at the 360-degree perspective—don’t simply pat yourself on the back for the positive things or run away from the negatives.

When you do that, you have the best possibility of making a fully integrated decision. If we had done that better at Adidas, we would have probably foreseen the JCPenney’s debacle and made the decision to stay true to all of our consumers.

David Howitt

Author David Howitt

David, author of the integrated business book, Heed Your Call, is the founding CEO of Meriwether Group—a private equity firm offering business advising and accelerator services. He is an accomplished entrepreneur with over twenty years of experience providing business strategy and brand counsel to thriving start-ups, small businesses and Fortune 100 companies.

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