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What do you know that no one else understands? – Peter Thiel


“Try your hardest to combat atrophy and routine. To question the obvious and the given is an essential element of the maxim ‘de omnius dubitandum’ [All is to be doubted].”
~ Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian

Contrarian Agriculture

          Opposite in nature, direction, or meaning.

The entrepreneurial paths with the most upside potential are those that are new and untried.  Identifying those paths comes, at least in part, from the way the entrepreneur looks at and interacts with the world around him or her.  While pleasing other people is not a bad habit, agreeing too quickly with others on the way the world works today dampens one’s ability to identify interesting opportunities.

In addition, being willing to try new things that may invite questions or even ridicule.  It is difficult if professional acquaintances  have doubts about something you’re working on, but how much harder is it if the doubts come from family and friends?  Courage is a great word for behavior in extreme circumstances, but what about behavior in more day-to-day circumstances?

My contention is that entrepreneurs find ways to be contrarian.  In doing so they uncover ideas, pathways, and ultimately businesses that are trail-blazing.  Peter Thiel gets at this in interviews and his book Zero to One by asking ‘what truth do few people agree with you on?’

One method I suggest to students for putting your inner contrarian to work is to capture it in a persona.  In my case, I envision a neighbor of my grandfather named Vladi.  Vlcdi was dead before I was even born, but I still recall Grandpa’s tales about the sheer orneriness of Vladi, and some of the funny reactions to his behaviors.  So my inner contrarian takes the form in my mind of a German-accented farmer in 1930s bib overalls growling disagreement at those people and situations he encounters, just for the amusement of it really.

Another means of honing your contrarian skills is to examine bits of conventional wisdom and where you may differ from it.  Conventional wisdom is the body of ideas or explanations generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in a field.

Conventional wisdom, to be fair, is conventional because it has some element of truth.  Thinking in a contrarian way about it, therefore, is more an exercise in critical thinking and reasoning than in mere disagreement.

Five examples of what may be taken as conventional wisdom about entrepreneurship includes the following.

  1. Successful entrepreneurs love big risks.
  2. A well-written business plan is the first outcome of the entrepreneur who is starting a new business.
  3. Marketing of a new product trumps the actual functionality of the product itself.
  4. The past experience of an entrepreneur is the best predictor of whether his or her startup will succeed.
  5. Breakthrough, disruptive, innovative new products and services are usually completely new to the world and can be patented.

What does your inner (or outer!) contrarian tell you about any one of these five examples of conventional wisdom about entrepreneurship?  Reply to this post.  In addition, reply not only to this post but to those of other respondents.  Do you disagree with any of these examples of conventional wisdom?

Unleash your inner contrarian!