A few months ago, my mom told me she was reading a book called The Hemingses of Monticello, by Annette Gordon-Reed. I thought to myself, “Well, that sounds interesting but I don’t think there’s much to tell.” It’s pretty much a given among historians and Jeffersonian fans alike now that Thomas Jefferson had children with a slave woman he owned named Sally Hemings. His relationship with Sally was not unique in the world of slavery, certainly. I decided to download the book on Audible, my new favorite thing, and I was surprised to see that it would take me about 30 hours to finish the book. Thirty hours to sum up a simple story? Seriously?
If I had wanted to, I could have just passed up the whole experience. I thought I knew the most important tidbits. What else could I learn?
The fact is, Gordon-Reed’s book does such an excellent job of raising questions it makes your head hurt. The book makes me think of thinks I never otherwise would have thought of on my own. Sally Hemings could have stayed in Paris, where she was a free woman, for example. Why did she decide to go back to Virginia with Jefferson, where she would have no freedom? What did Jefferson’s daughters think about all of this? Did his wife even know that Sally was her half-sister?
We are all cramped for time, or at least we say we are. It can be easy for us to think, “Well, I know all of that. I don’t need to spend any more time on the subject.” We may do that with our competitors, for example. “Oh, they do what they do. They’ll never change. Don’t worry about them.” We may think we know everything about our industry. We may think we know everything about our customers. Indeed, we may take it for granted that we have all of this knowledge, and we may be so sure that we make the decision not to bother following up, confirming information, or double-checking that nothing has changed.
The Price of Complacency
What happens when we get lazy about our knowledge? Put simply, failing to keep ahead of the curve in terms of your competitors, your industry, and your customers can spell doom for your business. One of our clients recently found out, for example, that a competitor has dramatically increased their services, making them competitive in even more areas than they had been before. Had our client become complacent, assuming their competitor was just doing the same ole same ole, they might not have been able to nip this development in the bud.
Companies are going to be facing the same kind of obstacle when it comes to customers. Your customer base is aging. New customers (potentially) are coming of age. New customers have grown up in different environments. There are future customers of your out there who started using their own smart phone in first grade. Who knows what the world will be like by the time they’ve got real purchasing power.
It is so easy to think we have a grasp on all of the information we could ever possibly want. The reality is that the world is always changing, and that means there is always more to learn.
Have you gotten complacent? There’s an easy way to fix it. Start learning.
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/huffstutterrobertl/5251015455/ via Creative Commons