Outcomes that feel ordained only in retrospect

September 13, 2012

We recently came across two short items that illustrate a favorite theme of ours:  business conditions may ebb and flow, but good managers adapt.

  1. 15 Companies That Originally Sold Something Else
  2. History of iconic fast-food and convenience stores

A few of the stories of these companies’ origins may ring a bell (DuPont began as a manufacturer of gunpowder, Berkshire Hathaway of textiles) but more than a few will likely surprise you:  Avon started as a book seller, Nokia in wood pulp, Wrigley in soap and baking powder, McDonald’s as a drive-in BBQ, 7-Eleven as an ice house, and Coleco made shoe leather (Connecticut Leather Company) long before it did Cabbage Patch Kids and video games.  Another interesting bit of trivia:  the original site of the first Burger King remains unknown.

A favorite theme and critical to the long-term success of entrepreneurial ventures, here are a few related posts at NVSE:

Tim Harford – author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure – describes the incremental, adaptive ways by which success is achieved (three principles for failing productively).

James Dyson, British inventor, argues innovation often grows in unexpected directions and that watching or even playing with mistakes is productive and exciting because you notice unexpected things.

Saras Sarasvathy, professor at the Darden School of Business, teaches that great entrepreneurs thrive on contingency and improvise their way to an outcome that only feels ordained in retrospect.

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