This post is part of a series outlining the 11 principles detailed in David’s book, Heed Your Call, which helps modern-day heroes (entrepreneurs) integrate their business and spiritual lives.

In your business, there’s going to be a ton of opportunities to generate revenue by going after low-hanging fruit. Sometimes that’s ok, but mostly it’s not because it represents staying in the known world. Our known worlds are those things that make up our stories, our past—they often define us too much. There is comfort in a reality that is familiar and safe.

Within the confines of what’s familiar, we limit the potential of us and our businesses. Tweet This Quote

Over time, most of us nestle into this abode, too fearful to ever leave. Within the confines of this familiar place, we limit our potential and the potential of our businesses, which can only be achieved when we surrender to the unknown world and set out to live and fulfill our purpose.

I worked for Adidas for eight years, and in the mid-90s, the brand had a rebirth in the United States. The three-stripes became cool and an anecdote to the Nike swoosh. Consumer demand skyrocketed. Part of the demand also came from JCPenney’s. At the time, they led a behemoth account and could order tens of millions of dollars worth of product. One day, they came to us and wanted to place a huge order on three-striped windwear (think wind-resistant, soft-shell material that makes a noise when you walk).

At the time, there was nothing about our windwear that was performance or high technology. It didn’t speak to being an athlete. But, it was a huge order. Our senior management team sat back and asked if this was right for the brand, or right for hitting or exceeding our numbers. We decided that it wasn’t right for the brand—but we shipped the product anyway. As a result, we had a one-time giant bump in sales, but the cost to the brand lasted longer.

As the entrepreneur, constantly ask, “Where is there an opportunity for our brand to complete its promise to the consumer?” Tweet This Quote

Three-striped windwear became synonymous with older, gray-haired mall walkers—not particularly aspirational, and certainly not attractive to high-level athletes or the younger populations. When we tried to sell an expensive Kobe Bryant product line into more prestigious channels, our association with mall walkers screwed us.

An obvious misalignment manifested in our brand because we were telling one consumer group we’re all about performance and technology and outfitting athletes. But then, a teenager would see their mom going to the mall or jazzercise class in her Adidas three-stripe pants.

The known world is JCPenney’s. It’s constantly relying on what was or has been without looking at what you should do or be as a company. Perhaps the following season, JCPenney’s would have wanted more three-stripe windwear. Living in the known world would have been fulfilling that order again, perhaps in three new colors. But, as evidenced, that wasn’t and still wouldn’t be good for the brand.

To grow as a company, challenge yourself by asking, “Is this right, or is this easy?” Tweet This Quote

As the entrepreneur or executive, you have to constantly ask, where is there an opportunity for our brand to complete its promise to the consumer? This means running a company that constantly innovates, pushes the envelope, and jumps into discomfort. In your job, there’s going to be the easy, practical, “this is what we’ve always done in the past” posture. But, similarly, to grow as a company, you have to challenge yourself by asking, “Is this right, or is this easy?”

Companies are often validated when your board commends you for hitting your sales targets, when you meet analyst expectations, when you can pay solid bonuses out, or offer job security for an extended time. For those reasons, one year after shipping out the big JCPenney’s deal, our senior team walked around like heroes. However, it didn’t look so good the next year when business with key consumer groups—like athletes—completely fell apart because we alienated them by not fulfilling our promise.

Run a company that constantly innovates, pushes the envelope, and jumps into discomfort. Tweet This Quote

As humans, we often act in order to be validated, and we associate that with our positive traits and attributes. However, the brighter the light, the bigger the shadow. We all have darker sides and weaknesses. To avoid or suppress those weaknesses or insecurities is to do ourselves a great injustice because we can learn from them. Some of our best teachers and guides hold a mirror up to ourselves and force us to reflect on the things we would rather not see.

As entrepreneurs, we need to be the ones that hold that mirror up to our businesses and ask, “Ok, I see all of the good stuff we’re doing, but let me take a minute to consider if there’s a darker side to this or something that might not be good after all.” Look at the 360-degree perspective—don’t simply pat yourself on the back for the positive things or run away from the negatives.

When you do that, you have the best possibility of making a fully integrated decision. If we had done that better at Adidas, we would have probably foreseen the JCPenney’s debacle and made the decision to stay true to all of our consumers.

About the author

David Howitt

David Howitt

David, author of the integrated business book, Heed Your Call, is the founding CEO of Meriwether Group—a private equity firm offering business advising and accelerator services. He is an accomplished entrepreneur with over twenty years of experience providing business strategy and brand counsel to thriving start-ups, small businesses and Fortune 100 companies.

  • Max Mantey

    Interesting read. It’s crazy to think that even a company as large as Adidas can make a decision based on a the idea they’ll see a slight bump in profits -short term. It’s reassuring to know however that sticking with what you set out to do with your brand is the business savvy move. I work for a company right now that their market is more high end. This for obvious reasons makes it difficult at times to stay true to that idea. Reading this however gives a good insight on why it’s great to stick to the market you set out to be in.

  • Hjordis Robinson

    This article is a good reminder to entrepreneurs and their businesses to always be conscious of their credibility and reputation when it comes to making business decisions. Although one might be faced with an easy and profitable opportunity, it is not always the most beneficial to the companies image or brand name. When a person pursues an entrepreneurial lifestyle, it is extremely crucial to remember the importance of challenging oneself by making more difficult decisions that uphold a product instead of becoming comfortable with taking the easy way out.

  • Hunter Ward

    I really enjoyed this article. My favorite take away form this, is that you should take a 360-view to get a good perspective. I believe that this isn’t just a good business tip; this is also a good tip for everyday life. Many times I find myself stuck between the right and the easy choice and I believe that stepping back and getting a good perspective would be very beneficial.

  • Sarah Nelson

    This article reiterates some of the key traits that successful entrepreneurs have. Being able to think outside the box is a major key to be successful as an entrepreneur as is being passionate enough to look for a real solution that is right not just the easy way to do it. The easy way doesn’t fix the problem, it just covers up the problem and the problem will never be solved. Doing the right thing can be harder but in the end it will be better for the company’s image and the company in general. There many companies out there like Adidas that didn’t look at their company with a 360 degree perspective and these companies hurt. Being able to critique yourself and your work will make for a more successful business.

  • David Kidd

    Very interesting read. I was never aware that companies as large as Adidas tackled the problem of short run vs long run profit. I had previously ignorantly viewed them as simply setting a product towards a certain consumer market and staying true to their original brand. On the surface, short run profit would seemingly be more of a local small business tradeoff rather than one faced by big business. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sierra Stein

    This reminds of the factory collapse in Bangladesh a couple of years back. Several American companies used this facility where there were unethical work conditions. When the factory collapsed several workers were killed that posed question for the companies that produced their products there. Should they be responsible for those lives? It just goes to show that making quick in the moment decisions to get cheaper labor or whatever the scenario may be may be the most profitable decision but could cause great repercussions in the long run. Doing what is morally better for your company is more beneficial and profitable in the long-term.

  • Logan Coffman

    Thanks David, great post. Your points about the “brighter the light the bigger the shadow” I think hold great weight. In our culture it is especially important to live in somewhat of a narcissistic way, working harder than others for the gratification of what image you portray to others. Entrepreneurial endeavors force us to be intentional about what issues we choose to dedicate our lives to, and the people we surround ourselves with hold us accountable by holding up that “mirror” of self-reflection every now and again to make sure our ego’s don’t get out of check. Couldn’t agree more!

  • Samuel Cannon

    I really enjoyed this article because it goes to show that even the larger corporations can suffer in the long run from one bad business decision. It is a lot safer as entrepreneurs to stay true to who you are, and who your company is, rater than try and compete for a short run advantage. We must always be conscious of the decisions we make, because we never know how they might affect our businesses in the end. Thanks for sharing, David!

  • Amanda

    I found this article to be fascinating and what I appreciated the most was the example. Often times, I feel as though authors just shove an example in, in hopes of helping explain the situation but in this instance I found the example as the basis of the point. I think that this story really makes the readers more conscious of their choices and the effects it will take on a company’s brand.

  • Emily Butler

    I really like this article. I thought the example was honestly hilarious because I myself had come to associate the adidas three stripe shoes with moms and older people. But I like the message that what is easy and comfortable isn’t always the smartest. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions and go the harder route in order to find more success in the long run. What you’re used to is easy but it isn’t always the right decision.

  • Katie Frank

    I enjoyed this article and found that it made some really important points. However, I think the “low hanging fruit” is something that should not be overlooked. I feel that if a business truly wants to excel, they must first address the obvious and then go for above and beyond. It’s hard to build a house without the foundation.

  • Danielle Flynn

    I enjoyed the difference the article made between the “known world” and “unknown world”, I have never thought about the two distinctions between what is easy and what is right to do. As a college student, especially with school work, I usually lean towards the quickest and easiest solutions to everything but you don’t gain any new knowledge or life skills. I plan on trying to change the way I approach situations and school work in future endeavors.

  • Danielle Flynn

    I enjoyed the difference the article made between the “known world” and “unknown world”, I have never thought about the two distinctions between what is easy and what is right to do. As a college student, especially with school work, I usually lean towards the quickest and easiest solutions to everything but you don’t gain any new knowledge or life skills. I plan on trying to change the way I approach situations and school work in future endeavors.

  • Kevin Marshall

    Max, I agree, I also was stunned and intrigued that larger companies such as Adidas makes decisions based on short term profits. My last job I noticed the same thing when I worked for Hertz. Branch managers tell their employee’s they need to do everything in their power to increase sales to bump up numbers for the quarter.

  • Michael Potter

    This article definitely picked my brain quite a bit. I struggled with trying to discern what the author, Howitt, meant when he included “what’s right” in the title of this article. I asked myself whether he meant doing what’s right for the consumers, employees, overall company, or general population of people affected by a firm’s decisions. As a I read and re-read, the answer came to me as it affects all of them. As a company, you breed a culture and spark a mission that requires a strong responsibility and commitment. The integrity of the company and those who work for it is much more important than short term profit-based goals. I love the fact that Adidas recognizes how important it is to stay true to all of your customers. Although it took a big decision and and even bigger loss to realize this, all big companies should learn and move forward. There’s a quote about big business that says, “There is no losing, there is only winning and learning.” This article manifests the values that all companies, big or small, can replicate in today’s world.

  • Teddy Grebenc

    This article speaks to so many things that I believe are wrong with today’s consumer society. So many times companies do what’s easy and stop there. Whether it’s to make more of a profit or like Howitt said the company is going after the low hanging fruit and that’s where they stop. What I believe Howitt is trying to say is that once you start doing what is right, your breed this culture in your business and your employees will start doing what is right as well, it may cost a bit more money, and some trial and error, but making a product that you can stand behind is much more important than one that you are embarrassed of, and the customers will see that. Because of this I went to my Facebook community to see what they had to say about doing what is right vs. what is easy. The conversation was a little bit lack luster, but nonetheless I got the article out there and hopefully made people think

  • Eoghan

    For my call to action I posted this article to my Facebook page. I thought that it was the best platform to reach the most amount of like minded people (or not so like minded which would be thought provoking), as it provides great reach and sparks conversation at a public level.
    I think my results from posting it online where successful. I received some likes from friends and also some comments from people who found it an informative read. What i found interesting was some responses from people not even from a business background saying they found some inspirational words and thought provoking thoughts which I was pleased about. “Look at the 360-degree perspective—don’t simply pat yourself on the back for the positive things or run away from the negatives,” this is a line I picked up on and someone else mentioned it to me, this piece of advice not only applies to entrepreneurs but I think it helps me, as well as others, on a personal level. As I’ve been involved in family businesses and others, this idea of going after low hanging fruit and stopping there is something I’ve seen first hand, but this article sets it out clear that more thought and some chances can make you far more successful.
    “There is comfort in a reality that is familiar and safe,” ie, in my opinion, get out of the comfort zone.