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Unlearning Lesson #22: Lose Sight of the Shore

Posted in Unlearning

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” –Marcel Proust

Question #22: There is a small town that has only one street. The street runs in an east-west direction and is exactly one mile in length. The town council recently granted liquor licenses to two taverns with the proviso the establishments be situated such that they are maximized for the convenience of both the town’s inhabitants and the tavern owners. Where along the one mile street should the establishments be located?

Did you say that the taverns should be positioned on opposite sides of the street at the half-mile point? This ensures both taverns will draw an equal number of patrons but the locations are not maximized for the customers benefit. To do this, the establishments must be located at the 1/3 and 2/3-mile marks. Under this scenario both taverns draw an equal number of people but no one in the town walks more than a one-third of a mile. The difference is that in the first scenario the tavern owners optimized the situation for their own benefit but that didn’t yield the best solution for the town’s residents.

The situation has comparable real-world implications and it is a behavior worth unlearning because it can lead to missed opportunities. In his book, Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond writes that one of history’s greater curiosities is the fact that the large island of Madagascar, which sits only 225 miles off the coast of Africa, wasn’t discovered by Africans. It was discovered by peoples from Indonesia—a country thousands of miles to the east. Much the same dynamic is at play when large and established businesses miss big opportunities close to home.

W.Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne argue persuasively in their book, Blue Ocean Strategy, that one of the best methods for achieving success is not to go head-to-head with the competition—as in the aforementioned exampled of placing one tavern directly across the street from another—it is to delve in unknown market space or what they refer to as Blue Ocean opportunities.

This is precisely what Cirque do Soleil chose to do when it reimagined the circus. It didn’t try to compete with Ringling and Barnum and Bailey with longer trapeze sets or larger and better trained elephants. Instead it created an entirely new and unique experience that didn’t rely on any animals and rather emphasized theme and artistic music, along with a rich and diverse pool of dance and performance art.

In the beginning Cirque du Soleil was considered cutting edge and avante garde (and it still is). But by venturing forth into unchartered waters, it has redefined the meaning of circus and brought its art to millions of people around the world.

As was mentioned in Unlearning Lesson #7 unlearning requires a willingness to “see what isn’t there” and it is impossible to see far beyond the shore when you are tethered to the shore. Or, as Andre Gide more eloquently wrote, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Homework assignment #22: In 2008, Nintendo was able to recapture a large share of the video gaming market by developing a new gaming console (the Wii) which could be used by its non-customers (seniors). Today, the 55 to 65 year-old demographic is the fastest growing segment of the video gaming market. Consider and design a product for a group of people who are today not your customers.

P.S. If you would like to read 38 additional “unlearning lessons,” consider picking up a copy of my new book, Higher Unlearning: 39 Post-Requisite Lessons for Achieving a Successful Future. The eBook is now only $2.99!

Interested in some other free “unlearning” lessons? Check out these older posts:

Unlearning Lesson #21: Know Doubt
Unlearning Lesson #20: Mix Up Your Mind
Unlearning Lesson #19: Grow From Your Inexperiences



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