I will be going to watch a theatre play soon, I haven’t seen a theatre stage play in a while. The last time I watched, the star performer didn’t show up. An understudy took his place, and there was a small paper-note on our seats before the play started informing us that the understudy actor would be appearing.

The lights went down, the music started, the curtain went up. A few extras wandered onto the stage. Then the main character appeared.

The audience applauded.


Why was the audience applauding the understudy? Virtually everyone in the audience knew that the big star wasn’t there.

I’m sure that in the old days, when Ken Gampu or Mirriam Makeba appeared onstage, there was the gasp of recognition and the gratitude the audience felt that a big star had chosen to spend valuable time with us, the audience. So the applause is a natural by-product of that emotion.

Here, though, was an actor we hadn’t paid to see, an actor who was sure to do his best, but he hadn’t done a thing for us.

So why applaud?


There are too many choices in our lives. Too many brands of soft drinks, too many kinds of cellphones and too many options of airlines to fly from Johannesburg to Cape Town. There are too many social choices as well, when to clap, how to say hello, what sort of greeting to leave on your cellphone.

As a result, more often than not, with all these options at our disposal, we resort to tradition. We do what we have always done because it’s safer and easier.

You should care about this.

You should care if you are an entrepreneur and trying to launch and market a new idea or product that requires people to upset their existing tradition. Changing the way we do things (whether it’s the design of a bicycle or the structure of the vote counting from manual to electronic counting as we have seen comrades in the Polokwane conference) is hard indeed.

Realising that being better is not nearly enough helps you understand the magnitude of your marketing challenge.

In fact, traditions rarely change quickly just because the alternatives are better.

True story: Walking down Hamilton Street in Pretoria last Friday, less than a block from about twenty great and cheap restaurants, I heard one tourist say to another tourist, “Well, we could have lunch at MacDonalds.”

Why choose McDonalds? Tradition!

Should you care that every single voicemail greeting says, “Hi, you have reached Roche’s voicemail. I’m not available right now, please leave a message after the tone”? I think by now you know what to do after the beep, but still you get instructions every time.

You should also care if you are trying to build something big and important because big and important things often come from changing the tradition. And if you can invent a new tradition, a new tradition around your innovation, that’s when you win big.

The Start-up Revolution is about breaking tradition, upsetting the status-quo.


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