The Public Liability Insurance Blog

Tomatoes, fruit salad, innovation and business

TomatoesKnowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.

Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

Entrepreneurship is checking to see if putting a tomato in a fruit salad isn’t actually a good idea and seeing if there is a potential market there.

Separating out genuine wisdom from things that have just always been the way that they have can be difficult, but every now and then an individual comes along and changes the world in a small way simply by doing something new, or something old in a way that no one had thought to do before.

New markets and new ideas

Going along with what’s always been done before can greatly restrict you. The truth is your market doesn’t always know what it wants, because it can’t always think beyond the constraints of what is the current norm.

Father of the modern automobile, Henry Ford, is quote as having said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

At the time, nobody had even considered the possibility of a horseless carriage, or if they had it was mere fantasy as opposed to thinking it was possible. It would probably be like a contemporary market thinking about a teleporter – we can get our head around the concept but we’re unlikely to consider it to be an actual possibility.

Industry experts might not be visionaries

It’s not just consumers that might not be able to see the future either. Even as recently as 2007, Microsoft’s chief executive Steve Ballmer is quoted as having said about the iPhone that it “is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard which makes it not a very good email machine.” A senior marketing director at the company, Richard Sprague at about the same time also wrote the device off as something that only the Apple “religious faithful” will want, dismissing the phone as overhyped.

In the early days of the smartphone, it would have been easy enough to agree with them. Today with the gift of hindsight, it’s hard to see how they could have been so wrong.

Technology in general can indeed blindside people. Digital Equipment Corp founder Ken Olsen is quoted as saying “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,” back in 1977, failing to see the rapid evolution of the computer from room-filling collection of whirring tapes and clattering switches to something that slides into your pocket and connects to other computers all across the world.

Even in other forms of technology there are some choice quotes that are hilarious in hindsight. Warner Brothers’ HM Warner stated “who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” in reaction to the possibility of films with sound. (Actually, he might have been on to something there.)

The point is, even those closest to the market that you’re trying to break into or trying to introduce a potentially daft idea into might not be the best people to listen to. Sometimes these experts will be too close to their market, and other times it will just be that some ideas are simply brand new and completely untested.

Seeing the future

There are two messages here. First of all, you can’t always see what’s coming your way and you can’t predict what will happen in the near or distant future, even if you do have fantastic in-depth projections and forecasts. For that reason, it is always important to make sure that your small business has a suitable insurance policy in place so that it is secured against truly expensive and potentially business-killing setbacks cutting you down to size. It doesn’t have to be an extravagance and any decent broker will be able to find you a policy that is appropriate to your company in terms of premium and remit.

Second of all, just because everyone tells you that your idea is never going to work, that doesn’t mean that you can’t try it and shouldn’t at least test it. People don’t always know what they want, and experts won’t always be able to see a truly great idea. If they could, they would have had it already.

It’s true, a tomato in the fruit salad leads to a very unpleasant dessert, but that doesn’t mean you should take my word for it. Maybe you can find a way to make it work and will be the next unexpected billionaire thanks to a range of unlikely fruit-salad-and-tomato-based products. Of course, if you do go down this route, let me give you a head start so that you can learn from my mistakes and know that adding Tabasco sauce does not help matters.

Written by David Hing for YOUR Insurance, a specialist broker that knows more about public liability insurance than it does about fruit salads and tomatoes.

Image credit: Jonathan Billinger via Wikimedia Commons and geograph.org.uk