The Benefits of Thinking Differently


Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

So goes the Richard Dreyfuss-voiced ad for Apple’s 1997 ‘Think Different’ campaign. It was a landmark moment in the fortune of the tech company, which was on the brink of going bust. As such, it was also a landmark moment in the fortune of the world we know today, which has come to be defined by the products Apple went on to make in the wake of its renewed success.

The text above is read over a montage of black and white footage of iconic historical figures, each of whom changed the world by thinking outside of the box: Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and more. Rob Siltanen, then Creative Director and Managing Partner at TBWA/Chiat/Day, the agency behind the campaign, who wrote the initial drafts of the ad, has said he always believed the campaign concept was to express something of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” [1]

This article will extol the benefits of thinking differently.

What happens if you don’t?

Perhaps looking at the above names is daunting. You might think, ‘Well, yes, they thought differently but I don’t have to because I’m not trying to change the world.’ But as much as thinking differently correlates with success, an inability to think differently correlates with failure.

The go-to example for anyone of a certain generation is Blockbuster. As Mark Nevins, author of What Happens Now? Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You, writes in Forbes, “The company’s last few CEOs just dithered around as movie-watching preferences evolved, and they simply couldn’t understand the seismic shift underway by market disruptors like Netflix. Blockbuster…had the resources to [shift to streaming]. They just didn’t have the vision or the will; indeed, they deliberately turned away and in the end were the architects of their own demise.” [2]

Guy Kawasaki, the ‘Apple evangelist’ who oversaw the marketing of the original mackintosh back in the eighties (and upcoming guest on The 1% Podcast) also gives the example of Kodak [3]. Kodak engineer Steven Sasson invented the first digital camera in 1975. Up until that point, all photos had to be printed by specialists. Sasson saw the gap in the market; there was a more convenient way to do this. And yet, how many of you reading this use a Kodak digital camera today? Yeah…

Kodak decided, despite having spotted the gap in the market and filling it, that as they were a chemicals company and that was what they would remain. They didn’t pivot even having sensed the prevailing winds. If you don’t think differently and instead choose to remain steadfast in ways of old, you will be left behind. As the iconic French writer Marcel Proust put it, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Shifting sands

Steve Denning, author of Reinventing Capitalism in the Digital Age, writes in Forbes of a broader shift that took place in management thinking at the turn of the century. Not just in methods and processes, but in terminology. “The particular terminology varied from firm to firm. Apple talked of a different ‘culture’. Microsoft talked of ‘mindset’, ‘empathy’ and ‘values.’ Amazon talked about ‘a different kind of leadership’, and ‘working backwards from the customer.’ Other firms talked of ‘mental models’ and ‘narratives.’” [4]

The approach these firms took was balked at by long-established legacy brands. Denning splits the thinking along the lines of the brain: left-hemisphere, right-hemisphere. The left-hemisphere is logical, calculating and efficient. The right-hemisphere is creative, empathetic, free-wheeling. This (explicit) Bo Burnham song aptly sums up the differences.

To Denning, 20th century businesses relied on left-hemisphere thinking. It was about efficiency and money-making. “They tended to dismiss the needs and idiosyncrasies of customers as unimportant or even irrelevant. They often believed that if they efficiently produced solid products customers would buy them.” [5]

Meanwhile, the modernisers had shifted to a right-hemisphere model, based more on empathy, less on lateral thinking. “These firms recognized that they could use the brain’s right-hemisphere to understand and delight customers as a necessary prior step to making money…Steve Jobs did not use a complex team approach to develop the idea of the iPod. Instead he had the right-hemisphere idea of “putting a thousand songs in the customer’s pocket.”” [6]

To the 20th century tycoons’ shock, it was the businesses that adopted this new approach that were making the most money and accelerating at a rate of knots. The companies they’d diagnosed as unscientific and illogical were winning the rat race. They still are. That’s because, as Denning surmises, “When the right hemisphere of the brain is driving things, the change process is radically simplified and expedited.” [7]

Thinking differently

Analysing the interview series The Decisions That Made Me a Leader, BBC journalist Evan Davis surmises that successful leaders don’t worry about being different. He noted three intriguing attributes between the interviewees that he felt helped them to lead well. [8]

First was a rebellious streak. Whether it was at school, university or during an early working experience, many great business leaders found they had problems with authority figures. Their disapproval with such figures ranged from former Dragons Den star Duncan Bannatyne being court-martialed and dishonourably discharged from the navy for fighting an officer to Depop founder Simon Beckerman describing himself as “unemployable” due to disobedience problems. If you think differently, falling in line can be difficult.

The second trait was what Davis described as a “kind of impatience hard-wired into their personalities…there is always an itch. They never stand still.” [9]

That impatience, Davis notes, often serves them well in terms of getting to the top, although often also results in leaving their own business once they get there. “When a business matures, it often needs a management that can do the painstaking work of delivering sustainable growth…at that point, impatience is exactly the wrong attribute” [10]. Once a business settles, it becomes a little more suit and tie, the job becomes keeping the ship steady. Those who think differently want to innovate and shake things up again. Apple has done a remarkable job of maintaining an ongoing sense of innovation, but few others can say the same.

The third and final entrepreneurial attribute Davis notes is “a willingness to actually do things, rather than merely think about them. Or overthink them” [11]. While normal, more rational people might look at a situation and see the potential negatives that come with it and dawdle, wondering whether the venture is worth it, real entrepreneurs are already out there giving it a go.

As Davis ponders, “I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs, and I sometimes wonder if they are deluded in their optimism. Many massively overrate their chances of success, and they often can’t even imagine the many things that may go wrong with the next idea they are toying with. They have too vivid a picture of what can go right” [12]. This, of course, can set them up for massive failure. But it’s something they’re not even considering. To those of us of a more indecisive disposition, this may be the difference in thinking that truly sets such people apart.

It’s not business, it’s strictly personal

Y Combinator, a business that funds early stage startups, recently announced they would take on businesses that didn’t even have an idea [13]. That’s because they understand that having an idea is the easy part, actualising it is hard.

It all comes to people. Kawasaki calls the process of taking an idea to the implementation stage going “beyond eureka”, and says it’s necessary [14]. It ties in, too, with Davis’ assessment of the type of people who succeed: those who get things done. Very often on the aforementioned Dragons Den, which Davis presents, contestants are given investments less for the product they’re pitching than the way they carry themselves. “I’m investing in you,” is a recurring assertion from the dragons.

It goes back to the Apple ad, too. It was only individuals featured in the adverts. John Lennon, not The Beatles. Mohammad Ali, not a successful sports team. People like mavericks. And by definition it’s hard to think differently as a group. How many people thinking differently together would it take for them all to be thinking in conformity? It’s not to say that one should go out of their way to rub people up the wrong way or go against the grain for the mere sake of it. But, if you are the type to find yourself often at odds with the prevailing thinking of the day, perhaps you should go it alone, or try to find a way to put your differences to use rather than wielding them against colleagues.

The benefits of thinking differently

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.

If that’s you, lean into your eccentricity –– there is greater value in it than in another empty vessel. If it’s not you, why not seek out the areas in which you are a little left of field? No one of us is the same. Perhaps you’ll find a niche trait there from which you can build. To be more like some of the great figures that made the game-changing Apple ad those 27 years ago, scratch that itch, don’t overthink it. You may fail, but you’ll learn something along the way. As the writer Henry Miller put it, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

Give it a go. Think different.

More on Innovation

Innovation: Gains, Risks, and the Grey In Between

The Power of Team Clusters: A People-Centric Approach to Innovation

Synergy Over Solo: Navigating the Collaborative Future of Business




[3] Kawasaki, G. Nuismer, M. Think Remarkable: 9 Paths to Transform Your Life and Make a Difference. Wiley & Sons. 2024.











[14] Kawasaki, G. Nuismer, M. Think Remarkable: 9 Paths to Transform Your Life and Make a Difference. Wiley & Sons. 2024.