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#20 “I’m not that dumb, and I’m not that smart”

I’m going through a strange patch in my career as I transition from working for a large organisation to working for myself as a business consultant and business owner. It’s an awkward feeling needing to be confident in the recommendations I make to clients, when I know there are so many things that can go wrong while implementing them - most of which are issues well outside my control. Business strategy is tough, and the toughest area I’ve found is gaining buy-in from stakeholders. People flop quickly from trusting your ideas, to not trusting them when change is required.

My thought this morning is that I need to remind my clients “I’m not a magician.” Yes, I have extensively studied business best practice, achieved high grades in university postgraduate studies, and worked with one of the best companies in the world – but that doesn’t mean I can solve my client’s problems in a short amount of time like they expect me to.

I’m writing a plan for one of my clients right now, and I can’t help but wonder what the outcomes will look like if my recommendations are taken on board by them – Will I look dumb in hindsight, or will I look smart?

This thought reminded me of one of marketing’s biggest blunders/ ingenious-acts in history, when Coca Cola changed their 99 year-old Coke recipe to New Coke. Leading up to the year 1985, sales for Coca Cola were falling, in part due to a blind-taste test conducted by Pepsi to prove they had a superior product. The taste test results showed that people preferred sweeter flavoured cola, which aligned closer with Pepsi’s product. Pepsi let everyone know about these results by heavily investing in advertising them.

Coca Cola decided to combat this attack by producing ‘New Coke’, a sweeter alternative to the original. The new flavour hit shelves in 1985, and the public erupted at Coca Cola’s decision to scrap the original. Coca Cola headquarters received over 40,000 letters, phone calls, and enormous amounts of bad press. The management team at Coca Cola realised they had made a terrible mistake, and restocked shelves with the original recipe within 3 months. Surprisingly to them, this move reignited Coke’s sales, and resulted in the drink regaining its leading position of the fizzy drink market. This turnaround illustrates a tremendous amount of renewed loyalty to the brand. New Coke was later named Coke 2, and was soon discontinued as sales were low.

In hindsight to this escapade, people questioned whether the move was dumb marketing, or a clever move planned all along, to which the CEO of Coca Cola at the time, Don Keough replied, “The truth is we’re not that dumb and we’re not that smart.”

So, who knows what the future holds for my plans? One thing is for certain though, I will look dumb or smart, and that’s something I need to accept when taking calculated risks and working for myself. Gulp…