More than the sum of our clichés
We're wired for shortcuts. Our brains require a lot of energy, so they take little breaks. Lots of little breaks.
One of our favorite ways to take a mental break is to see patterns and give those patterns names. They’re shortcuts, but scientists call them “heuristics”.
They work well for the most part, but if we’re not careful, they can foul us up with bad assumptions, false titles and lazy thinking.
Right in front of us, yet nearly invisible
Two weeks ago, I wrote that independents are the microbiome of our economy; vast, essential, unseen.
I think the reason why independents are invisible may be that we don’t have the language to describe this vast ocean of enterprise that sustains us all. Turns out, without the right shortcut, ideas can disappear like places in the undiscovered corners of a map.
When I tell people about indie.biz and say it’s for “small, independent businesses,” they’ll sometimes say something like “Like nail salons and stuff like that?” That’s 20-40% of our economy whisked away with the wave of a manicured hand.
The map inside your mind
And it’s those clichés—seeds of truth wrapped in shortcuts—that don’t do justice to all the dazzling richness of independent business. You’d be surprised at how powerful, wrong and ridiculous those assumptions are, when they’re illustrated back to us. Almost like leafing through that old high school yearbook and reminiscing about who sat with whom in the school cafeteria.
Let’s have a look, straight from a simple Google image search. Note: the following is not science. Stop reading here if you’re looking for science.
Business is serious business. It’s the kind of thing that you get dressed up to do in a clean, well-appointed office with lots of natural light. The atmosphere feels clubby but not in a fun way.
Business is very technical. There are a lot of numbers and charts. It’s a fun-ish group activity that brings people together to make decisions and make deals. This happens when they sit side-by-side and look at computer screens together. When the deal-making concludes, they shake hands.
Entrepreneurs are lone wolves. They dress like business people, but sometimes, before shaking hands, they take off their ties.
Entrepreneurs like to write things on the walls. They must be tired because they are thinking hard all the time. Often, they stare into space, but occasionally they look at you with a confident smile. Some entrepreneurs take the many-armed form of Lord Vishnu.
Small business people work in cute shops. They mostly sell baked goods, flowers or jewelry. They are very welcoming. To make sure you know they are available for transactions, most hold up signs that say “OPEN”.
Unlike other business people, they are mostly women. They wear aprons. They run with a more international set, like a little retail United Nations. They seem much happier than other business people. They have big, warm smiles. They work hard, but also like to stand in comfortable positions with their arms crossed.
Freelancers work exclusively on their computers and phones. Even when they work with other people, they sit television-family-style and don’t look at or talk to each other. To keep free from distractions, they wear headphones.
Freelancers love coffee. They are always drinking it and always have a fresh cup right next to their computers. Freelancers like to work on wooden tables. Occasionally they will find a wooden table on a beach or in a park and they will work there.
Consultants are like business people but they are far more serious. They have the best penmanship, and they all wear white or light blue shirts. They express themselves with their hands for emphasis.
They like to stand up and lean over people a lot, which gives them authority. They, too, like to fold their arms, but in a different way than the small business women in aprons.
Working at a startup is like being at a children’s birthday party: You get to make a lot of fun art projects and the grownups keep taking pictures of the tops of your heads. The childlike atmosphere is highlighted by the fact that no one is a day older than 26.
People in startups wear very colorful clothes which match their colorful office furniture. Even their jeans come in fun colors. They work together silently, preferring a knowing glance or high-five to a bunch of empty talk.
Time to get our heuristics together
Over the past two years I’ve met with hundreds of independents. None of them look like these pictures. They are not stereotypes and they don’t fit into neat little categories.
The pictures we have in our heads can keep us from seeing the world as it is and as it could be. At their worst, they become a prison built on myopia and limited choices.
They say the last mile of any innovation is the mile in our heads. When we clear out the noise, we start to imagine new possibilities. And in the world we live in, what could be more important than that?