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Our marching orders: ‘Kick ass and save the world’

Pictured above, from left: William McDonough, Dolly Singh and Bre Pettis.

You can’t deal with change by doing the same stuff we’ve always done. As leadership expert Emmanuel Gobillot might say, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

No, a changing world requires a new way of thinking. It forces us to do things we’ve never done before. In a situation like that, the rules go out the window.

And what a liberating feeling that is. Basically, we get to start from zero and try anything. If we think it’s a good idea and will get us ahead of the change curve, why not?

In fact, those are our new marching orders.

That much was clear at the 2015 edition of Sage Summit, the Sage user conference that has grown into the biggest event for small and mid-sized businesses in the world. More than 7,500 people from 64 countries invaded New Orleans for this year’s Summit, and they didn’t leave disappointed. A star-studded lineup of thought leaders gave them plenty to think about as they try to grapple with unprecedented change and complexity.

“Try to do things for which there isn’t a blueprint,” said Dolly Singh, an Elon Musk / SpaceX disciple who, as founder and CEO of Thesis Couture, has applied science to her effort to redesign the stiletto. “When you’re doing something that has no blueprint, there is no right answer. Follow your instinct.”

Of course, following your gut is a scary proposition. What if you’re wrong?

Singh has an answer for that, too.

“The only real failure is if you quit,” she said. “Everything else is an opportunity to get better.”

We’ll undoubtedly be building our own blueprints more and more often going forward. New circumstances require new solutions, and given the dizzying pace of change, we won’t have time to study these things to death. “Action before clarity” will be our rallying cry.

That means another time-honored maxim — the customer is always right — simply isn’t true anymore … if it ever was to begin with. If Henry Ford had listened to his customers, he would have tried to engineer a faster horse. No Apple customer on Earth asked Steve Jobs to build an iPhone. They simply saw a better way and acted.

Similarly, Matthew Weiner refused to listen to focus groups when he set out to create “Mad Men” — not because he distrusted television viewers; he just didn’t want anyone getting in the way of his vision. The result is one of the most highly acclaimed shows in television history.

“I simply set out to make a TV show that I wanted to watch,” Weiner told the Sage Summit crowd. “Be your own fan. If you like what you’re doing, others will, too.”

The best thing about working with no blueprint is that you get to do meaningful stuff. “My question now is this: What’s worth making?” said entrepreneur and MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis. Designer and innovator William McDonough — perhaps the most brilliant person I’ve ever heard speak — put it this way: “We use our values to drive value.”

That’s where we are — a place with no rules. A place where change is happening so quickly that we must constantly learn and try new things in order to survive. A place that provides us with an amazing opportunity — to clean the slate and build a future based on our values. To do work that not only matters, but makes a difference.

To, in Bre Pettis’ words, “kick ass and save the world.”

Let’s get started.

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