I’ve been saying, “stick to your knitting” a lot lately. I’ve never took the time to look up the saying — heck, I may even be saying it wrong. My reference to this vernacular from a bygone era must have been buried deep in the recesses of my subconscious. How did it get there? Probably, as a kid, I was eavesdropping on my family’s elders around the kitchen table, and such an utterance made its way to my nosy ears. Anyway, it’s out in full view now — in a big way.
Without Googling for confirmation as to its meaning, I am using it in the context of “do what you do best.” Therein, lies the conflict in which I find myself — as both an individual and a business leader. “Do what you do best” and “innovate/hedge your bets/divest” couldn’t be further apart. Or maybe not? Vanilla is the greatest ice cream flavor ever made, but ice cream makers are constantly expanding the menu to find new markets and new opportunities to make money and draw in new consumers.
The battle rages on. I purport to be innovative and visionary, but I’m running around telling people not to leave the comforts of what they do best. Am I right on both fronts, or am I just another confused leader battling conflict? I’m entrenched in the classic battle of “and” vs. “or.” In this corner is the idea that you can do both, “and,” versus the narrow-mindedness of one or the other, “or” — nothing in between.
There is an extremely compelling argument for simply continuing to do what you know. When people love what you do and how you do it, just keep moving forward within the narrow boundaries of “don’t fix it if it’s not broke.”
Tootsie Rolls come to mind. This chewy chocolate treat has never made its way into other delectable goodies that occupy the shelves at your favorite grocer. Nope. No Tootsie Roll Cereal, or Tootsie Roll Snack Cakes, or pies, or energy drinks, or anything else bearing the name Tootsie Roll. Only candy. The Tootsie Roll did make its way into a Tootsie Pop, but that’s it. One innovation that found its way to market in 1931. As they say, “and the rest is history.” Folks, that’s sticking to your knitting. Only one move since the invention of the Tootsie Roll in 1896, yet they are as readily available today, and as successful, as they have always been.
Tootsie Roll Industries is right. So is Apple. In a way, they both stick to their knitting — one just a little “closer to the vest” than the other. Oh no, not another saying to haunt me. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can innovate as long as you keep it close to the vest.
Actually, I don’t know what I’m saying. The hunt for clarity continues. I remain conflicted.