Do you know the Difference between Profitable and Popular thinking?

30 Jan Do you know the Difference between Profitable and Popular thinking?

Have you ever heard of a cultural trance? This is where a belief becomes so popular, it turns into a truth that nearly everyone subscribes to without further questioning.

There are many examples in history of pioneers who did question the popular view, often to their detriment.

For example, when Christopher Columbus argued that the world was a sphere rather than flat, many thought he was just a bit crazy. Everyone knew the world was flat; you only had to look out at the horizon to see there was an edge!

Even with today’s evidence, it’s a fantastic concept.

Yet the popular view hung on well beyond the increasing and ultimately overwhelming evidence. Why?

The great benefit of popular thinking is that it maintains the status quo and it doesn’t require you to think at all.

Popular thinking is easy. Profitable thinking may be somewhat harder, but well worth the effort.


So what is the difference between popular and profitable thinking?

Popular thinking: During a recession, take every sale you can get.

Profitable thinking: A study of companies followed during recessions found, “In the downturn, winning companies walked away from bad business and losers did not.”

Economist John Maynard Keynes asserts, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from the old ones.”

Going against popular thinking can be difficult. However bucking a tradition may mean the difference between success and failure of your business.


Popular thinking often proves to be limiting. Questioning what’s popular isn’t necessarily hard once we create the discipline of doing it. John Maxwell, in Thinking for a Change, recommends five activities we can use to question popular thinking:

1. Think before you follow.

People in some industries or professions follow decades-old practices without giving them much thought. It is profitable to occasionally stop and ask, “Is this really the best way to do this?

2. Appreciate thinking different from your own.

As a leader, you might be surprised by the energy unleashed when you adopt the habit of readily asking, ‘what do you think?’

3. Continually question your own thinking.

Andy Stanley says, ‘In an organisation, we should remember that every tradition was originally a good idea – and perhaps even revolutionary. But not every tradition is a good idea for the future.

What traditions have become obstacles in your life or organisation?

Maybe it’s your old performance reporting methodology, people management processes or even your marketing approach.

4. Try new things in new ways.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? At age five, first time activities were a common occurrence.

Forty years later, doing new things in new ways is no less important.

What innovations can you think of that might improve your organisation?

These changes may not be popular but they may well prove profitable.

5. Get used to being uncomfortable.

Making a living in the 21st century requires much thought. Spend time thinking about your own activities, their value and their output.

Now more than ever before we are being measured according to output. In the past busy-ness was rewarded, now the focus is much more on the result rather than the process. Do you have systems in place that encourages results rather than activity?


Popular thinking limits potential

Prior to Roger Bannister, the running world believed that the human body simply wasn’t constructed to run the mile in less than four minutes. Bannister thought that the limit was a lie.

With the goal in mind, Bannister ran a 3:59.4 mile on May 6, 1954. Shortly after this new truth was created more and more people were able to better this time as it was no longer seen as a barrier.



Make a list of ideas and initiatives that could improve your organisation. Pretend you have no constraints with resources.

On your list rank each initiative in terms of its ease to do. If you think the idea would be easy to do mark it 10, if it is hard to do, mark it closer to 0.

Look at each initiative again. This time evaluate how well implementation would positively impact on the success of the business. If it could have a large impact, mark it 10 if not mark it closer to 0.

For example a new photocopier might be easy to replace but if its impact on the business in overall terms is negligible it will rank closer to zero.

Which initiatives and ideas rank high in both questions?  These are the ones to start creating actions for.


If you would like help with creating growth through profitable actions call our business improvement partner Ross Holding and book your free business review. Of course, you can also complete our free business health questionnaire which will get you started on this process.

To download a printable version of this article click here.

Forsythes Business and Financial Advisors
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