The story of Clarkson Grain provides a perfect example of an approach to business we like to call, “zig while others zag” (or, “start zigging when others start zagging,” or any variation of zigging and zagging you choose). Simply put, the old saying means that opportunity is often found in a direction that’s slightly off (say, 45 degrees, or so) from the direction being followed by the conventional thinking in a market. It’s not in the “opposite” direction or in a brand new direction, it’s merely a slightly different direction that is revealed by listening to your customers. (Too often, however, businesses are too busy selling their product to customers, they forget to listen.)

The west-center Illinois corn processor’s story, as reported by Dan Charles on NPR’s Morning Edition, explains how a visit with potential customers years ago helped the company’s founder, Lynn Clarkson, discover a niche market opportunity that today provides his company a fast-growing, international business: providing corn for companies that require “non genetically modified” ingredients, or “GMO-free.”

For Clarkson, “GMO-free” is not a “cause,” but a market need he discovered while trying to solve a problem he discovered when customers told him about their need for “consistency in supply.” He proposed a solution to customers that at the time may have appeared to be a radical zag from the zig of traditional corn processors: “(providing) a single variety; a single hybrid, delivered at any one time, so you’re not mixing different cooking characteristics.”

That solution, and the approach it required the company to follow, provided Clarkson Grain with a unique niche position as the market for non-GMO corn emerged. And it provides a great zig-zag lesson worth listening to.

Text of the story: How American Food Companies Go GMO-Free In A GMO World (

Listen to the story:

(Featured photo: Darin via Flickr)