How does Levi Strauss & Co. keep itself profitable, launch a plethora of highly creative marketing campaigns and remain a leader and legend in the retail fashion industry? By knowing that business as usual won’t win.

But how do you avoid business as usual? For a global operation like Levi Strauss it means approaching problems creatively, knowing your audience, and challenging the conventional wisdom that could be holding you back. It’s an approach that helped Levi hold its own against a commoditized and saturated jeans market in 2012, according to many news reports, despite drastic increases in cotton costs.

“It is about approaching challenges differently and leading teams in a new way,” says Robert Wiley, the former Senior Vice President, Sourcing, in the global sourcing division.

Knowing your audience

It’s the different approach that’s important, Wiley says, especially when you have multiple teams in multiple locations.

“In my role, I work with people all over the world, they bring their own culture to the table and integrate it with the team,” Wiley says. “What inspires my Miami team versus, say my Hong Kong team, is different and I cannot pretend to have it all figured out.”

Challenging conventional wisdom

There’s a saying. The last six words of any great organization are “We’ve never done it that way.” And it’s true. Too many times too many enterprises get stuck. They have their formula that’s worked for years, maybe decades, so it’s comfortable to stick with that approach. But doing what you’ve always done probably won’t get you where you want to go. Wiley calls it going on autopilot as an executive.

For Wiley in the sourcing world, it means looking forward and getting ahead of everyone else.

“At first it was all about China, until it was all about Vietnam, then Burma,” he says. “It might be about all or none of the above, and your teams have to constantly challenge conventional wisdom or business as usual.”

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