A man walks into a Ferrari dealership, approaches a salesperson, hands him a picture of a Ferrari Aurea GT and states “I’d like to buy that car today; here’s $15,000.”

The salesperson politely informs the man he is unable to meet the request because 1) it is Sunday and car sales are prohibited by state law; 2) the model he desires does not exist as it is a concept car and the photo is nothing more than a 3D rendering; and 3) there is no viable alternative model Ferrari available for $15,000.  He suggests the man visit a Toyota or Ford dealership tomorrow to find a used car that better matches his criteria.

Who here is being unreasonable? The customer anxious to spend $15,000 on a fictitious Ferrari or the salesperson unwilling to compromise in order to make a sale?  Conventional wisdom would find the customer to be unreasonable, if not certifiably insane. And in all likelihood, the salesperson will send the man on his way and then enjoy a good laugh with his co-workers at the customer’s expense.

And that is the problem with conventional wisdom; it embraces the status quo and dismisses the unreasonable request, the wacky idea, the crazy concept or the nonsensical approach. Yet within these absurd notions we might derive future products, markets, industries or entire economies…

  • At one time it was unreasonable to request a custom configured PC be built and shipped in the same day for less than $1,000. Dell met that request.
  • At one time it was unreasonable to request a car rental agency come pick you up at home or work. Enterprise met that request.
  • At one time it was unreasonable to request instantaneous, electronic delivery of a single song for a fraction of the album price. Apple met that request.
  • At one time it was unreasonable to request free hosting and distribution of your homemade videos on the Internet.  YouTube met that request.
  • At one time is was unreasonable to request publication of your book for free with complete editorial and copyright control. Lulu met that request.
  • At one time it was unreasonable to request the purchase of three uniquely patterned individual socks. LittleMissMatched met that request.

You don’t have to meet an unreasonable request; in fact, most often it is likely in your best interests to decline it altogether. But if you have any desire to grow, advance, evolve or improve you should at least give it some consideration. Playwright George Bernard Shaw once stated:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

And so when presented with an unreasonable request, at a minimum ask what would have to change to meet the demand in the future—either fully or partially—and what would be the resultant benefit.

It might not be feasible to sell make-believe sports cars for $15K on Sundays, but what if…