Going Against the Grain. And Why It’s Often Necessary.

October 26, 2021


6 minute read


by Kara Goldin

“How can you be sure?”

“You’re betting this is what consumers want.”

“That’s not what experienced industry experts would do.”

Doubts and doubters. I wrote a whole book about them. Because I learned over the course of my career that nothing was more rewarding than fighting off those voices — both the ones in my own head and the ones from skeptics — and finding success in the end.

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To succeed you have to be willing to stand up for what you believe even if it means you go against conventional wisdom. I turned down plenty of advice from people seasoned in the beverage world because it would have meant acting counter to the brand I wanted to build and the company I wanted to lead.

When I insisted on Hint being bottled without preservatives, experts told me that I’d never be able to extend the product’s shelf life and distribute it nationwide. “It’s just not possible,” I was told. Those were the facts that the experts knew at the time. And I recognized how their experience put blinders on them to see what was possible. To be able to innovate how a product was made. Or have any reason to.

Eventually, we were the ones who found a way to innovate the bottling procedure without using preservatives. Listening to the seasoned vets wouldn’t have allowed us to think differently and innovate as we did. It took some tinkering. It took some time. But eventually, our persistence paid off.

Many times, the advice I’ve received has come from people who were well-intended. Friends who were worried for me when I left the tech industry expressed their concerns because they didn’t see the purpose and meaning that I envisioned. The fact that these people I loved and trusted doubted my “why” made it all the harder to quell the doubts in my mind.

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Ultimately, I knew I needed to keep pushing further on my pursuit. I hoped that Hint could help people get healthier. I believed that a powerful upside outweighed the risk of failure. And even if I couldn’t turn Hint into a thriving business, I believed that I could walk away with skills and knowledge that I might never have gained otherwise. And for me, that would constitute my purpose for continuing.

Going against the grain builds grit and determination. Even in quote-unquote “failure.” Going against the grain requires creativity to think of solutions to problems that haven’t been considered. Going against the grain exercises muscles you probably didn’t know you have. And stretches you to learn key lessons through lived experience. The best way to learn.

I knew from having grown up the youngest of five kids that my own observations and experiences were critical to my learning. When your gut tells you to go against the grain, even if it means rejecting seemingly expert advice, you’re probably doing the right thing.

I spoke to Arlan Hamilton, founder of Backstage Capital, for my podcast, The Kara Goldin Show. She pointed to one characteristic that has driven her success in fields that she entered with relatively little experience. “I just knew that I had something that other people didn’t have, which was a certain vision, and the willingness to just go all in.”

The willingness to go all in. So key! When that passion and curiosity take you further than any textbook or expert advice while you stop at nothing to solve the problems in front of you.

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Esther Wojcicki is a trailblazing teacher, writer, and entrepreneur who has spent decades in Silicon Valley pioneering in the field of education. But that wasn’t her first calling. She recounted to me her early forays into journalism back in the early 1960s, when editors only offered her staff positions writing for the “women’s section” of the newspaper. “Can you believe that?” she said, still irked by the experience decades later.

So what did she do? She wrote the stories she wanted to write and sold them as a freelancer. And she started teaching journalism to high schoolers, cultivating a new generation of reporters and writers who, along with her, would go against the grain and reshape an industry with outdated ideas and antiquated power structures. You figure out how to move forward.

That’s the real value we bring when we challenge ideas and traditional ways of doing things. We clear out some of the received wisdom that’s been passed down from generation to generation without question. We swipe away the cobwebs that obscure new ways of thinking. That’s how we evolve. That’s how we innovate. Through trial and error. Learning from our mistakes and oversights.

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One of my all-time personal heroes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is famously quoted saying, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

Be part of that first step. Stand up for what you believe in. Find a way to do what you believe is possible. Be the change you want to see in your world. While it can be a lonely road at times, it can also be a gratifying path to take. And a rewarding one too.


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