I read an article online where the author wrote something that I almost totally disagreed with. As I read it I was thinking to myself, “That point is wrong.” And then, “That point is wrong, too.” Yet, the comments at the bottom of the article coming from what I would imagine are mostly benefit brokers seemed to all agree with the author. I couldn’t believe it. Not one comment challenged the author.

I couldn’t tell if the author truly believed what she was writing or if she was simply writing what she thought the audience wanted to hear. Regardless, there were many there to heap praise and say, “Great article. I wholeheartedly agree with you.” I started to feel like I was George Costanza on Seinfeld.

Seinfeld buffs may recall the episode where George concluded that if everything he instinctively thought turned out to be wrong then the opposite of his instinctive thought must be right. Am I George Costanza here? Are all these brokers right and I am wrong? Is the way I think hurting my business, or is there a lot of groupthink going on? Should I do the opposite of what I think, like George Costanza?

Also see: "What does the Willis, Towers Watson merger mean about the benefits industry?"

Challenging everyday thought doesn’t mean I like to say the opposite of what people are thinking just to be the antagonist. I think it is just my nature. As an athlete, I always encountered competition. Someone was always trying to beat me. As a pitcher, I was trying to fool batters. I was always thinking, “What is he expecting me to throw”? And then sometimes I would do the opposite.

In business, one has to assume the same. However, while in sports having a losing season may be disappointing, having a losing season in business can be critical. Especially when it is a small business and the business is yours. So I am always thinking of ways to remain competitive in my business. A way to be different. If everyone is thinking the same thing then how can one possibly be different? I once saw a quote by Ben Franklin that said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then nobody is thinking.”

So maybe it is not that everyone is thinking the same thing. It may be that technically nobody is really thinking at all. There is no great revelation when you say something everyone already knows or thinks.

I have referenced Peter Thiel and his book, Zero to One, in the past. In his book, he says that when he interviews people he always asks following question, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

He asks this question because he is looking for people who think different. Those that are going to challenge the status quo and change the future. As we all know, the future will be different.

Also see: "Benefits goggles may be blurring your vision."

I like to think outside the box, but more importantly, I think there is danger in groupthink. As a business owner, I can’t afford to fall into a pattern where I don’t anticipate change. Think Blockbuster Video, Circuit City and Kmart here. Because the world will change, those that anticipate change may be better prepared for the future.

  • You can apply this thought process to the benefit business. Just ask yourself the following:
  • What if employers really don’t want to provide health insurance for their employees?
  • What if most people don’t want choice?
  • What if employers don’t value a broker’s services?
  • What if Zenefits is right, and employers value what they do more than what you do?

Imagine a broker going into an employer with a new value proposition which is the total opposite of what others do. Many, many, brokers sell the value proposition of helping employers manage their risk and claims to lower health care costs. They provide wellness programs and other tools to try and reduce costs. What if you went into an employer and said, “Mr. Employer, managing your health care costs is almost impossible. Not only do you have turnover in your employee population, but you are not in business to worry about managing the health of your employees. What if we developed a program to get you out of the health management business while still maintaining your competiveness for employees? Is this something you would be interested in?”
This market approach is almost the exact opposite of what every broker in America is doing.

You can go through this thought process in other areas of the benefit business. Think about your business today and then think the opposite. Is the opposite a likely or unlikely event? I ask myself these questions every day. To quote Peter Thiel once again (maybe you should read his book), “What secret is out there that the world has yet to discover?”

He believes there are many secrets out there and if you find one that a market will value then you can bring great success to your business. What I do know is that those secrets aren’t in any blog or in any PowerPoint presentation. And if you are thinking just like the next guy then maybe you really aren’t thinking at all. So maybe being George Costanza for a day is not a real bad idea. It may be the key to a successful future.

Markland is a principle of HR Technology Advisors and past president of Benefits Technology Group (BTG). HRT is an insurance and technology consulting firm focused primarily on helping insurance brokers, companies, third-party vendors, and their customers, with evaluating and implementing technology solutions and e-commerce strategies.

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