Should You Follow Conventional Wisdom?

A friend just completed seminary and is in the process of starting a new church. He and the church-planting committee have set out to do some research. They are visiting other churches in the area, surveying and talking to people to find out what the people need. After all, conventional wisdom tells us to find out what people need and fill that need. Conventional wisdom is bad advice.


Conventional wisdom is the collective judgment of everyone that has gone before us. It manifests itself in an assortment of generally accepted practices designed to give us a roadmap and prevent us from making mistakes. Unfortunately, it prevents us from doing lots of other things necessary to grow a differentiated business.

Prevents Innovation

To be a distinct business you must be an innovative business. To be innovative, you create better and different products and services. You try new ideas that no one else is trying. Conventional wisdom traps us in traditions and prevents innovation.

Assures Mediocrity

Remarkable businesses are marked by individuality. By definition, conventional wisdom is mediocrity. James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans, once wrote:

The man who has no other existence than that which he partakes in common with all around him, will never have any other than an existence of mediocrity.

Follows the Crowd

Following conventional wisdom means you’ll always be following, never be leading. It may also relegate you to being a below average business because you’ll always be doing things after everyone else as done them. Your business will be reactive, rather than proactive.

Not Always True

Conventional wisdom is not necessarily true. It is often later proven to be wrong. How many times has The Food Pyramid changed over the years? Research has proven wrong conventional wisdom about study habits: Rethinking Study Habits, and that worrying is bad for your health: The Longevity Project. And on and on.

Being Unconventional

That’s not to say that all generally accepted practices are bad or wrong. Paying your taxes on time and following the generally accepted accounting practices is good conventional wisdom. But when it comes to building a remarkable, differentiated business, there is the conventional way of doing things, and then there is your way of doing things. That’s what will make you different.

So how can my friend be unconventional about starting a new church? Maybe he should not use research to determine the vision and mission of the church. After all, that is what all the other churches do. He says he will be in prayer about it.

What about you, how can you be unconventional? What different path can you take to differentiate your business?

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