If You Don’t Embrace Stupid as the New Smart You Will Become Irrelevant (Guaranteed)
Ben Horowitz, cofounder of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, “Every time you have a breakthrough idea, a really innovative idea, by definition it’s going to look like a stupid idea. If it looked like a good idea, it wouldn’t be innovative, it would be something that everyone else already knew and would be obvious.”
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” — Steve Jobs
“The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits.” — Albert Einstein
“First he told me it was a stupid idea . . . and then he agreed to come on board.” — Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay
“A lot of people thought it sounded stupid. . . . Even some of our engineers weren’t interested.” — Biz Stone, cofounder of Twitter
“Everything I do people think is stupid.” — Seth Godin, bestselling author
“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” — Decca Recording Co., rejecting The Beatles, 1962
“‘Are you crazy? Stick my face on the label of salad dressing?’” — Paul Newman, founder of Newman’s Own
“When I proposed that idea people laughed at me, saying no one would go to the airport with out a paper ticket. . . . Now everyone does, and it has saved the industry millions of dollars.” — David Neeleman, CEO of Jetblue Airways, on the Advent of the electronic Airline ticket
“We allow no geniuses around our Studio.”— Walt Disney
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” — William Shakespeare
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The trouble makers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” — Apple, Inc.
Behind great success lies a common denominator: stupid.
After conducting hundreds of personal inter views, drawing from academic cases, and building on extensive study of famous and everyday people alike, a surprising trend emerged. Successful people, throughout history and today, don’t avoid stupid, they lean into it . . . in a smart way.
The Paradox of Stupid as the New Smart
Let me whisper a secret directly into your ear: If someone thinks that your ideas, or the changes you want to make, or the dreams bubbling up inside of you, are stupid, welcome to the Club.
You’re in the company of the world’s leading innovators, change agents, thought leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, philanthropists, executives, employees, educators, youth, moms, dads, families, philosophers, mentors, and more.
We all want to be smart. We’re scared of failure. Scared of falling behind. Scared of being foolish. Scared of looking stupid. No one wants any of that.
Or do we?
Maybe the smartest people in the world know something we don’t. Maybe they know that in order to be smart, in order to make significant contributions to the world, and in order to spur significant change in their own lives, they sometimes have to act on ideas that others might initially perceive as stupid.
The traditional idea of stupidity is as old as time. Pick up any dictionary, and it will offer some derivative of the definition, “lacking intelligence and common sense.” This type of stupidity is what I call unhealthy stupid. It is dangerous, and clearly not the kind of stupid you want to embrace. Unhealthy stupid indicates that a thing or idea is inherently faulty, meaning that the stupidity is a permanently ingrained and inseparable element.
Stupid as the New Smart, on the other hand, is healthy and should be sought after and embraced.
Stupid as the New Smart is that pressing thought that just won’t go away. That nagging hunch, that golden idea, that lofty dream, that if it weren’t so seemingly “stupid,” might actually have the chance to become something truly signif- icant—in your own life, and quite possibly, in the world at large.
Stupid as the New Smart infers that while an idea may appear to be inherently faulty, the idea is, in reality, sound and in your best interest to pursue.
The New Smart, is not inherently stupid. Rather, these ideas are simply labeled as such by yourself or others due to doubt, fear, confusion, or lack of understand- ing.
In short, stupid as the New Smart is a paradox.
par·a·dox/’per- - däks/
Noun: a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.
Here are some ways the New Smart shows up in our lives:
- The New Smart is highly creative.
- The New Smart is counterintuitive.
- The New Smart is innovative.
- The New Smart is beyond our comfort zone.
- The New Smart is making change.
- The New Smart is unconventional.
- The New Smart is leaning into fear.
- The New Smart is pushing through less-than-ideal circumstances.
- The New Smart is turning down the volume on critics.
- The New Smart is trusting the voice inside your own head.
Ben Horowitz is the cofounder of the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz behind some of the stupidest companies on the planet…heard of any of these?
- Medium (this very platfrom)
- …so many more…so many more…
It’s like Horowitz is an oracle or something.
Ben Horowotz sees stupid opportunity. He said,
“Every time you have a breakthrough idea, a really innovative idea, by definition it’s going to look like a stupid idea. If it looked like a good idea, it wouldn’t be innovative, it would be something that everyone else already knew and would be obvious.”
Stupid IS the New Smart
Paradoxically, stupid as the New Smart is the power behind the world’s wave makers and mountain movers.
It’s important to note that the New Smart isn’t being flippant and making decisions without forethought or preparation.
Those types of behaviors would be classified as unhealthy stupid. The New Smart is having the ability to discern when the label of “stupid” is masking a smart idea.
Embracing the New Smart requires employing ample forethought and preparation, and then committing to move forward against the current of the discouraging and even condemning opinions of others.
INNOVATION FOLLOWS A LOOP: THE STUPID LOOP
Stupid goes in a loop. It’s cyclical.
If your stupid project becomes successful, it will likely become accepted, then considered smart, and then standardized, and eventually, normal.
Whoops. Normal is where innovation goes to die. Normal isn’t new. People like “normal,” but they love “new.”
According to the Stupid Loop, a successful stupid project will become smart and even accepted and celebrated by the masses (or the niches). However, once stupid normalizes, you have to ask yourself, “Do I stay the same, for better or worse, or do I innovate — return to stupid — for better or worse?” Understanding the Stupid Loop, and why innovation is so vitally important, helps you develop the ability to check the pulse of the environ- ment around you and adapt accordingly.
You have to be vigilant in order to stay relevant.
If an entrepreneur, an intrapreneur, or a business leader stops leaning into stupid, doesn’t embrace necessary change and continuous improvement, and doesn’t have the courage to start fresh when necessary, he risks obsolescence. He risks setting the stage for others to swoop in and steal the show with their own amazingly stupid (and adaptive) innovations. He risks becoming extinct or, worse, irrelevant.
Think of the number of boy bands that come and go, or the catwalk fashion trends that appear and then disappear just as quickly, or the exercise trends that weave in and out of the mainstream. Consumers are constantly searching for something new to love. If you become too married to your stupid idea and refuse to evolve in the way the market demands, the New Smart can quickly become an unhealthy form of stupid, and it may die altogether.
Live in Permanent Beta
How do we avoid becoming extinct?
How do we ensure that we remain relevant?
Reid Hoffman, cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn.com, suggests that we all live in “permanent beta” — that we “never stop starting” and “get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” Hoffman proposes that living in perpetual beta allows you to be nimble, invest in yourself, build your network, take intelligent risks, and “make uncertainty and volatility work to [your] advantage.”
It’s a “mindset brimming with optimism because it celebrates the fact that you have the power to improve yourself and, as important, improve the world around you.” Do you hear that? YOU have the power. If you want to stay relevant and keep from becoming extinct, con- sider yourself liberated. The power is yours.
Just a Stupid Idea?
New Smart ideas and individuals have literally changed the world. Consider this quick handful of examples:
The telephone. Western Union originally rejected the telephone, saying in an internal memo in 1876, “The device is inherently of no value to us.”
The automobile. In 1903, the president of Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company. “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.”
The radio. In response to David’s Sarnoff’s urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s, his associates said, “The wireless music box has no imaginable com- mercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
Man on the Moon. In 1957, Lee De Forest, the man who pioneered radio and invented the vacuum tube, said, “A man-made moon voyage will never occur regard- less of all future scientific advances.”
Satellites. In 1961, T. Craven, the FCC commis- sioner said, “There is practically no chance communica- tions space satellites will be used to provide better tele- phone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.”
Thomas Edison. Said Edison himself, “I don’t know now what it was, but I was always at the foot of the class. I used to feel that the teachers never sympa- thized with me and that my father thought that I was stupid, and at last I almost decided that I must really be a dunce. . . . One day I overheard the teacher tell the inspector that I was ‘addled’ and it would not be worth- while keeping me in school any longer.”
Walt Disney. Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
Elvis Presley. Elvis, the king of rock and roll, was fired from the Grand Ole Opry after only one perfor- mance. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
The list could go on for days.
These innovations and individuals spurred huge changes in the economy, the way we live, and the way we view the world. The New Smart has served as a catalyst that opened entirely new industries, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. People who lean into the New Smart courageously put on the metaphorical dunce cap and change the world.
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” — Peter Drucker, legendary management consultant and business author
When you look at life through the stupid filter, you quickly find that quite often the stuff that sticks is the selfsame stuff that someone, somewhere, once wrote off as “stupid.” And if some of the world’s greatest success stories weren’t willing to stop at stupid, neither should you.
HOW DO I COME UP WITH A STUPID IDEA SO I DON’T BECOME IRRELEVANT?
I WANT TO BECOME RELEVANT OVER AND OVER.
Stuck, or maybe just a little uncertain? Anxiety over getting stupid is common. For many, the concept that you’re actually alowed to do the things you’re inherently passionate about is a new kind of thinking altogether. You’ve got to be.patient.with.yourself as you adjust to this new paradigm.
Don’t allow yourself to get so dammed up with fear about making the wrong decision that you are unable to decide at all. Quiet down, tune in, and trust your gut — go easy on yourself if overwhelming clarity doesn’t immediately come. It’s a process, and sometimes it takes time.
ASK YOURSELF THESE TWO QUESTIONS TO GET STUPID SMART
If you’re still in the boat of uncertainty and indecision, don’t fret. Here are two more soul-searching (and admittedly somewhat melodramatic) questions that will help you further refine your list.
1. If this idea is the last thing I ever do, will it be something I’d be proud to be remembered by?
2. If I were forced at gunpoint to choose only one of these ideas, which one would it be?
The urgency created by these two scenarios often serves to provide the clarity necessary to knock us free from indecision. If you really take these questions seriously, they can effectively shake your best ideas from the tree, and you’ll quickly and confidently be able to determine which projects are most important to you.
There’s more to it. A lot more. Just get started and overcome the mental block that you “can’t”…because YOU CAN.
HOW CAN I GET STUPID?
I created a free challenge to get stupid. It’s been taken by tens of thousands. It’s simple, effective and has started some of the most innovative startups and lives that you would never know…why? It all starts with your head getting…turnt. :-) That’s right. Time to get “turnt up.”
This article includes excerpts from my award-winning, best-selling book, The Power of Starting Something Stupid.
“Perfect book for these uncertain times.” — Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media