This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
— Robert Frost, summer 1915
I was thinking about these words from the poet Robert Frost as I walked through the gate. It was chaos.
There had to be at least 100,000 people walking in 10,000 different directions. I took a breath and looked at my map. With so many paths to follow choosing wisely felt hard.
It had been years since I’d attended the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Between the work and kid juggle and the pandemic I was out of practice, so it took a bit of time to get oriented as I made my way into the fairgrounds.
For anyone who’s never been, New Orleans Jazz Fest is one the largest music festivals in the country. With over 400,000 people attending, fans are treated to dozens of musical performances of all genres spread across 13 stages. Add in over 40 Louisiana-style unique food vendors, an arts and crafts village, Mardi Gras Indian parades, and lots of beer and you have a delicious gumbo of fun.
But as any veteran “Jazz Fester” will tell you, with so many people and so much to do and see, there’s a strategy to it.
Do you see a big-name act like Ed Sheeran, Herbie Hancock, or Santana or do you check out a smaller stage featuring a local zydeco or Mardi Gras Indian funk band? Do you stand in a long line for some crawfish etouffee or take the quick path to a plain old (but scrumptious) shrimp po-boy?
With wall-to-wall people, food lines, bathroom lines, random puddles of mud, and so many options of things to do—Jazz Fest is not easy to navigate.
Surveying the busy scene, I knew what I needed to do.
I decided to heed Robert Frost’s advice and take the road less traveled. My best chance for a successful Jazz Fest weekend was to go to the least popular stages. Sure, I may miss the big name acts, but I also may also discover something new that could be even better.
In business, taking the road less traveled takes courage. It means diverging from the comfort of the crowd and taking chances on the unknown.
In my day job, our tech services company has been in a “road less traveled” mindset as of late. Coming out of the pandemic we have finally had a chance to think outside the box on what we could offer our customers that’s new and different.
We’ve been looking for new twists on our existing services that would differentiate us from the crowd. We’ve been searching for original offerings that could take us down our own path. And, we’ve spent time looking inward at our processes and procedures for any contrarian approaches that would make us more efficient.
Our search for roads less traveled has been a challenge but it’s brought with it a spirit of innovation and excitement. It’s been a culture boost for our entire team.
But going against the grain carries with it some risk. At Jazz Fest you could end up at small stage seeing a band that doesn’t rock your world. In business it could mean lower profits or even losses.
This calculated risk, however, is often worth taking. Following the well-worn road can make it hard to differentiate yourself and grow. It can eventually lead to your product or services being seen as a commodity. And perhaps worst of all—it can become boring.
In the end, my road less traveled approach to this year’s Jazz Festival paid off. I avoided the crowds and discovered some amazing but lesser known musicians who are now among my favorites.
If Robert Frost was at Jazz Fest, I’m sure he would have been walking right along beside me.