When you have done the unreasonable thing, which is what most people call thinking for yourself, and asked the forbidden question “Why not?” you’ve empowered yourself with conventional wisdom’s polar opposite: unconventional insight. That’s the quality you always need to start a business, take a risk, or make any major decision.
Economically and personally, there couldn’t have been a worse time to start a new business than 1956, the year I launched what ultimately became a Fortune 500 company. The first major downturn of the postwar era—the so-called Eisenhower recession—was about to start, and the homebuilding market was already jittery. Edye and I were expecting our first child. We had a mortgage. I had lost my $67.40-a-week accounting job, and we were living on my income from a few accounting clients and the night classes I was teaching at the Detroit Institute of Technology.
Actually, I liked both teaching and accounting, but my meager earnings weren’t quite enough to give Edye the life I had promised. All I could see when I looked at the years ahead was more of the same, and that was not the future I wanted. As everyone else trimmed their expectations and ambitions to fit the nation’s prevailing pessimism, I ignored the conventional wisdom and came to the unreasonable conclusion that even recessions can yield opportunity.
Reasonable people treat conventional wisdom with respect. Those of us who are ...