Ah, the good old days! Fact is, the furniture industry was successful in the 1950’s and the 1970’s and 1990’s. But “nothing fails like success,” says Gerald Nachman, cultural historian and founder of www.thecolumnist.com. Financial success turned our industry into a left-brain culture. Left-brain cultures are good at preserving old paradigms and programs, what Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen calls “sustaining technology.”
This works well when an industry is hitting on all cylinders. But when they slump, as is happening in furniture right now, left-brain cultures fail. In this industry’s case, we have tried to innovate by building lines that look exactly the same only cheaper because we believe the customer is only interested in price. Marketing departments scream louder and louder about unsustainable credit offers, and now we are trying to make cheap computers and bad bicycle give-a-ways the reason Ms. Jones should visit our stores. Leaders won’t implement technology, claiming the customer will not be interested in fully using it, and the result is bland brands and slow growth or dying retailers.
In his 2005 bestseller, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink says, “The future belongs to designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers—creative and empathetic right-brain thinkers” who exhibit “the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative.” In every industry there must be right-brain thinkers. They’ll need promoted and will play a part in upending existing paradigms.
The cold reality is that left-brain cultures are a liability when it comes to innovation. These cultures are not bad—they’re simply not equipped to move forward. Left-brain cultures rearrange existing programs; they rarely allow systemic change. They claim today’s situations is really the same as it ever was.
3+2-5 is not an innovative way of saying 5-3-2. The sum remains the same: zero.