Common sense or just fear of failure?

New ideas die every day because someone alleges they go against “common sense.”

But what is “common sense,” anyway, and who defines it? I think using this argument often indicates nothing more than a fear of failure. It’s the cover many people will take to avoid doing something risky. More than once in my career, I’ve been told that my idea won’t work and that I should wake up and accept common sense. I’ve come to realize the use of “common sense” as a debate tactic is often a sign of my opponent’s weakness.

About ten years ago, I was repeatedly warned to stay out of financial services. At the time, we were developing our credit card, e-bank and securities businesses. Hardly any of the analysts following our company thought that was a good idea. Just shut down financial services and focus on e-commerce, they said, and we will be happy with your company. Why? It’s just common sense, they argued.

Today, our revenues from fintech are nearly equal to our revenues from e-commerce. So much for common sense.

We faced the same complaint when we went into baseball. In 2004, we entered into the arena of professional sport with the formation of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. At the time, this was the first new professional Japanese baseball franchise awarded in 50 years. Again, many thought this was a crazy move – that we should see reason and stick to our familiar e-commerce zone. But I believed baseball was a smart move for us. It was a way for us to engage with customers and be a part of their lives. As I hoped, the team has been a big brand builder for Rakuten. In 2013, the Rakuten Golden Eagles won the Japan Series and had a huge positive impact on our brand’s standing. Rakuten’s position in the Nikkei BP “Japan Brand” ranking has gone from outside of the Top 150 in our early days to the Top 10 in 2011.

Often a great new idea requires stepping outside one’s comfort zone to try something new, something never before attempted. The danger of “common sense” is that it makes the status quo seem safe, even smart. But, standing still and never trying anything new is hardly a smart strategy. While you are embracing your status quo and rejecting new ideas as “crazy,” someone else is willing to take a risk and give them a try. Think of how many things we have in our lives today – drones, WiFi, e-commerce – that once seemed crazy. We must always remember that no matter how successful we are, there are always more innovations to be discovered.

To be sure, thinking outside the box can lead to missteps and disappointment. But it can also lead to great success. There is no way to know unless you try. That doesn’t take common sense. It takes courage.

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