Once upon a time, accepted thinking was that the world was flat. Not so long ago, conventional wisdom was that a horse and cart was the pinnacle of human transport. Accepted thinking is always waiting to be proved wrong - and that goes for accepted business thinking too.
Smoking was once perfectly acceptable on trains and planes, until Virgin became the first airline to stop smoking on our planes, and the first rail company to ban smoking on our trains. We were met with some anger, as accepted thinking was that people should be allowed to smoke wherever they liked.
While it isn’t usually in our nature to encourage bans, it helped lots of our staff give up smoking and created a healthier environment for all. Now, of course, smoking inside public spaces is widely a thing of the past.
It used to be accepted thinking that businesses should focus upon their shareholders, then their customers, then their staff. We turned that the other way around at Virgin, where we know that looking after your employees means they will look after your customers, and in turn improve results for your shareholders. It used to be accepted thinking that companies should concentrate on profit above all else. Now more and more companies are realising the benefits of putting purpose people and the planet alongside profit.
Another example comes from the energy market, where it was until recently accepted that coal and oil would remain the dominant forces. Now, while the process is not short-term, change is happening. It is fascinating to see that the whole coal industry in America is now worth $3 billion, a comparatively low figure compared to the past. People now realise that most of the coal that is in the ground will be left in the ground. As the rise of clean energy continues and technology improves, I wonder if oil will follow a similar trajectory.
There is no need for anybody to always go along with the accepted way of doing things. I’ve based a lot of my career on that principle. As I have written previously, there is no such thing as an average person or a normal person. Everybody is unique and has the potential to do extraordinary things. The first step is often challenging accepted thinking.
What is your favourite example of challenging accepted thinking?