“Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.” – Larry Page
Do you want to make something that’s never been built? Do you want to solve a problem that other people don’t believe exists? Want to go down a career path that doesn’t make sense to anyone else you know? Want to upset an industry that is allergic to innovation? The validity of your idea or path does not depend upon other people’s approval. Stop waiting for permission to proceed.
I’m writing this post because I’ve often had crazy ideas (and unconventional paths) over the past 20 years, and I was often alone in the belief they could succeed. It’s not fun being alone, so if you can relate, I hope to encourage you today.
Many of the major decisions I’ve made in the past 15-20 years, I’ve had people in my life try to change my mind, talk me out of it, or just flat out call me crazy. I became a Christian, I’d surely been brainwashed. Ten years ago I met and married my wife in 6 months, surely sentencing ourselves to a quick and painful divorce. I dropped out college, before it was cool to do so, and was well on the road to ruin. My wife and I have had 5 incredible children, and are single handedly overpopulating the earth. I decided to earn my living on Craigslist and daily risked being beaten by strangers. I decided to start a blog, along with 10 million other people. I went into the used appliance business and somehow didn’t have to take a second job. I started consulting and teaching people on the side how they too could start an appliance business, all without a teaching degree! I started ApplianceSchool (now Tradeskills.io) and someone actually enrolled, then hundreds! The two ideas I’m working on now are also completely crazy, and I’m more excited than ever before to be working on them!
I just got done reading Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. It’s an incredible book and I highly recommend it. Elon helped start Paypal, which revolutionized the online payment industry. But first, it was crazy. Then he started Space X, an American aerospace manufacturer, and space transport services company. He wanted to build rockets and turn the space industry upside down. This was again fantastically crazy until he succeeded. At the same time, he started Tesla, an electric car company with the goal of reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. He was laughed at, made fun of, and called exceedingly crazy. Yet once again he succeeded and is now revolutionizing the car industry. Somewhere in there he also helped start SolarCity while many American solar companies were going out of business. Again, he succeeded. Now he’s in the process of building his own giant battery packs to improve energy storage and launch 4,000 satellites that will beam internet everywhere in the world. Both crazy ideas that will likely succeed judging on Elon’s recent track record. Invest in Elon Musk.
How to come up with good ideas?
1. Get out in the real world. Get a job or work on something where what you are learning while you work is worth more than the money you are making. This could mean working for free if the education is valuable enough.
2. Observe how things are changing. Often things changing in one sector can be an indicator of how things will eventually change in another. This knowledge of the past will help you become better at predicting the future.
3. Spend a lot of time thinking about how things should be, not how they currently are.
4. Keep your eyes open and always be looking for problems that need to be solved. Look for ways that you could add value to other people or businesses.
5. Write your ideas down as they come. Review them and scratch off the ones that you realize are terrible once you had a good nights sleep. The ones that hold your attention after a week, month, or even a year, might be worth pursuing.
6. Do you have a secret? Do you know something that other people don’t know? Have you noticed that a problem is surfacing that other people don’t know about? Do you know about some sort of consumer behavior that has changed that others don’t? Then that’s your idea and run with it!
7. Settle on an idea and then put it through the fire. Is someone else already doing it? If so, are you going to do it much better? If not, scrap the idea. If no one is doing it, why not? Be honest with yourself here as you don’t want to waste your time. If the answer is that the idea seems hard, or even impossible, or other people simply don’t see the need for it yet, and you do, then that might be your idea.
8. Now go and do it. Build it. Make it. Write it. Sing it. Paint it. Craft it. Program it. Do whatever it takes to get it built.
How to use people’s unbelief to your advantage
Once an idea is proven to work or becomes popular, it becomes an all-out gold rush. But if you are the crazy person with the idea, you can get a massive head start ahead of your eventual competitors, even years sometimes. If people think an idea is crazy, or don’t see the need for it, or don’t see how it could be profitable, they won’t be working on it. This is a huge advantage and is why the first companies to bring an idea to market are often dominate their market.
What if I fail?
You’re going to fail, but this is good. No one has learned to walk without falling, fly without crashing or do anything without making mistakes. That’s ok because you will get better at coming up with good ideas. Just learn from your mistakes. You aren’t crazy for trying and giving it your best shot. Those who have good ideas but never do anything about them are crazy. They are the ones that never put themselves in the position to succeed.
Now stop for a second and look at the greatest inventions and new products that have come about over the past 150 years. Almost all of their creators were treated as if they were crazy when they were working on their ideas. Consider the airplane, the car, the computer, the cell phone, the smartphone, the private space company, the electric car, solar panels, and robots. And then the crazy people that wanted to use the internet to watch movies, and send money, to actually purchase things, find a spouse, connect with friends, get your groceries delivered, press a button and have a regular car pick you up or find lodging at someone’s house or even tree house.
Not safe, not possible, too expensive, people don’t want to deal with a machine, too complicated and besides, people already have blah and don’t need something new. People want to touch and see before they buy. They won’t want to buy it online. All these things might have been true at some point until they were not true anymore.
Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.
Do you have a good idea? Then pursue it, and don’t let other people discourage you.
Have a story where people thought you were crazy and it ended up being a good idea? We’d love to hear it!