By  on May 26, 2006

Tom Ford opened the WWD Beauty CEO Summit by giving the industry some simple yet stirring advice: Trust your instincts.

"Many of us today are paralyzed by fear," said Ford, who gave the summit's opening keynote address on May 10 to a packed crowd. "As we operate in an industry that launches products at a scale that is often vast and worldwide, a certain amount of fear is understandable; the stakes are high. The fear can often result in the creation of bland products that do not challenge or innovate."

And, he said, fear can make companies reticent to reinvent. "It can make us hesitant to take a brand name that is known around the globe and give it a fresh, new spin," he said. "It can lead us to put out unsurprising products with unsurprising names promoted in an unsurprising way. It can make us weak and dull and, ultimately, fear can make us lose."

To overcome that obstacle, it's critical to find the courage to take a risk, he said.

"How do we get back in touch with that risk-taking gene that we all possess, yet that is muffled as business gets bigger and the stakes get higher? We need to trust our intuition. If we're bored while we're designing a product, the consumer will be bored. If we're excited when we create something, we can actually endow that product with an excitement that will translate to a positive reaction from the consumer. Today, more than ever, the customer wants something significant and bold. Half-hearted attempts to please everyone and offend no one will simply come off as second-best."

In fact, he said, the greatest breakthroughs are often things that break with tradition. "We often spend our time looking over our shoulders at our competitors rather than looking forward and forging a new way," he said. "We rely on testing and focus groups and surveys to tell us what the consumer wants when the very thing the consumer wants most is for us to tell them what they want and need. This is our role — to lead and to guide. To do this, we have to saturate ourselves with the market and today's culture and then react with a fresh eye, as if we were our consumer encountering our product at retail for the first time. We need to put the business models and spread sheets to the side, tap into the zeitgeist and be bold in our expression of it."

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