People in business today speak often of the “optics” of a situation, a behavior or event. Of course, it’s just a fancy way of saying, “We’re worried how it’s going to look.” But the over-fixation on optics can be paralyzing and stifle innovation. The best ideas often come from disruptive ideas and alternatives to established norms.
Of course, it’s easier for new market players to shoot-for-the-moon with bold ideas, while long-established players feel they have more to lose by “violating the trust” of their long-time customers. The “New Coke” debacle of the 1980s is often cited as a reason for staying the course, even in the face of intense competition.
Most of the innovative, brilliant, game-changing ideas that are percolated, fostered and pitched in boardrooms and coffee shops never see the light of day. Ideas are considered, debated and squashed at an alarming rate because they are, by their very nature, risky. Then again, the most dynamic, innovative companies in the world have become successful for the very reason that others have failed to thrive. Innovators worry less about how it will look and focus more on who they can help and what they can achieve.
Twenty years ago, I was visiting a dear friend outside of London. She had invited her sister and her teenage niece, Liberty, to join us for dinner at her home. I remember that Liberty was mortified that she had a big zit on the side of her nose and was worried about what everyone would think. Her Aunt, my friend, looked at her and said calmly: “LIbby dear, nobody cares what you look like. They only care what they look like.”
Such great wisdom and advice. Worry less about the optics and more about the impact.