Read D.F.'s bio and previous columns
June 23, 2008
It’s Hard to Sell a
Revolution to a Guy Who Just Wants a Desk
About 10 years ago, I attended a meeting at the headquarters of a large
company that makes office furniture. At the time, their latest brilliant
idea was an individual, desk-height, table-toppish thing on wheels. An
office worker would get one of these little tables on wheels, along with
a chair on wheels to match.
How would they use these? I found out as the meeting was starting.
All the furniture company employees who were attending the meeting
grabbed their tables-on-wheels, pushed off with their feet and assembled
themselves in a circle. Instant conference table! When it was over, they
all took their individual tables-on-wheels and returned to their work
The designers’ idea was that people would use these things in open
workspaces, as opposed to private offices or partition-separated
cubicles, and they would encourage a more team-oriented environment. One
of their brochures had the happy team tossing a basketball around the
open workspace area.
you’ve never heard of this, you probably think it sounds like a really
cool idea. But remember the part about it being 10 years ago? Yeah, it
never caught on. And I suspect part of the reason it never caught was
the fact that the employees of the company who made it liked it too
know. That’s counterintuitive. I love to use that word. But it’s also
logical when you think about it.
When this meeting started, these guys came wheeling on up to the – well,
the nothing, as there was no table until they collectively formed one –
like it was as natural as frat boys crowding around a keg. For a second,
I thought to myself, “This is weird,” but I figured out pretty quickly
that it must be this company’s latest thing, as they were always coming
up with something or other that was supposed to revolutionize the
What it did, without a doubt, was revolutionize their workplace –
to the point where they were so into it, they couldn’t relate to a
customer who had private offices, desks and normal chairs. They were
like evangelists for their idea. If all you wanted to buy from them was
a desk, especially if it was just like your old one, they looked at you
like you were stuck in 1956.
Wouldn’t you want to
revolutionize your office’s functionality?
“Can’t I just buy a desk?”
Dirty look. You are so
Now, I know what you’re thinking. If this happened 10 years ago, why am
I bringing it up now? Haven’t I had any job interviews with tattoo guys
lately? Don’t I have anything silly to say about Kirk Kerkorian this
bring it up because I think there’s an object lesson here for businesses
of all kinds. It is possible to fall too much in love with your own
concept. It’s one thing to believe in it. It’s another thing to think
it’s going to revolutionize the business world, end world hunger and
make Dancing with the Stars acceptable male viewing.
Have you ever tried to sell someone a revolution? Most aren’t really
looking to buy one. They might just need a new lamp for the corner. I
used to do some work for a real estate company that was usually cooking
up some sort of revolutionary scheme. One of their ideas was going to
change real estate forever with some sort of online concept that
looked like a combination of Google Earth, Tradin’ Times and
Travelocity. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars working on this
(instead of, say, paying my bills), and the last I checked, real estate
still worked pretty much the same way it always has.
there’s one company that truly has revolutionized the world, it’s
Microsoft. But they never claimed they were going to do this. They just
did it. And they didn’t sell you a revolution. They just sold you
software and you took it from there. (Then again, Microsoft did sort of
fall in love with Vista before all the rest of us fell in hate with it.
Oops. Nobody’s perfect.)
You may think you have a business concept that is going to change
everything as we know it, but I’ll bet you a Segway scooter you’ll
make more money if you focus on the tangible and let the fantastic take
care of itself.
© 2008 North Star
Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column #
Request permission to publish here.