I talk to so many people about the lack of creativity in companies in America. Part of creativity is contrarianism. Creativity battles common wisdom. Because if there's common wisdom, there's an opportunity. In my own experience, whatever was a good idea was a bad idea to most people.
You can tell by the offices. "I'm going to see the king!" The king is on the top floor and there are 17 people in front of the king's office. There are layers of bureaucracy. It shouldn't be like that.
Not necessarily assigning a billion-dollar value or a 10 billion-dollar value, but companies that become too ubiquitous go one way.
If you become the head of a big company today, you're not the youngest person in the world. You have a contract. You get a jet. You have a huge overpaid salary. You get bonuses. Do you think that CEO is going to screw around with fast, creative change? No. And the board of directors—the last thing they want is someone who's going to change things. Steve Jobs—he would bet the company, he wouldn't care. But there are very few people who run companies that way.
Everything has a trend to it; I don't care if it's appliances or engines. I always ask: What has a company done in the past five years that somebody's noticed?
If you don't care about the lapel or the buttons or the fit, then you are doing a disservice to the consumer. We're all inside the tunnel, speaking the language of business, but we need to speak the language of customers. How many companies actually talk about the product?
It takes a long time to get a reputation for quality. There are people in our industry, they're basically copiers. Look at the cars on the streets. They all look alike. But if you put quality into a product, then have it validated, you have huge credibility. It takes time to earn that.
Data is very important, but you have to be good at reading the data in an emotional way. If you look at a selling report, there's an emotional trend to what's selling. What's a focus group? We ask, "What's going on in the stores?" You learn and then edit, edit, edit, because there's a lot of junk mail in your head.
People who own stocks could not care less about the long run. Everyone in the world has a quarterly report. Your owners and investors are looking for a result. [But] it takes five or 10 years to build a company.
Try to ask someone to make a really good roast chicken.
[Photo by Yu Tsai]
A version of this article appeared in the May 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.