Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to Have a Crazy Idea That Changes the World

“If everybody says you’re nuts – you just might be onto something.”

That mantra guides my daily life.

Which makes sense, considering I made an entire career out of wearing a nametag everyday.

I know. Just another crazy idea, right?

Damn right. That’s the whole point. That crazy people who have crazy ideas make crazy change in a crazy world.

What about you? How many crazy ideas did you ignore yesterday?

ANSWER: Too many.

Today we’re going to talk about how to have a crazy idea that changes the world:

1. Give yourself permission to be crazy. To have a crazy idea, you must become physically, mentally and spiritually crazy yourself. Nothing illegal. Nothing dangerous. Just the willingness to stick yourself out there, make yourself uncomfortable and violate the status quo aggressively and creatively – all the while, being made fun of by most of the world.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Naturally, this is the biggest barrier for most people. Mostly because it involves massive uncertainty. Venturing down a less-defined path. And accepting the reality that along the journey, people are going to look at you like you’ve got green antennas growing out of your skull. Are you ok with that? Remember: Crazy ideas rarely come from sane people. Is your straightjacket securely fastened?

2. Be less intentional. Most of the crazy ideas that changed the world started out as mistakes, accidents, coincidences, serendipity, jokes or experiments. For that reason, my first suggestion is simple: Don’t try so hard. As the Tao De Ching reminds us, “Any over-determined action produces its exact opposite.”

Learn to relax your ears, soften your gaze and poke about the world in a playful, relaxed and curious way. By virtue of your receptive, open and flexible posture, you’ll be able to snag crazy ideas as they cross your path. Otherwise, your overly goal-oriented attitude will scare them into hiding.

It’s like Thoreau said: “Happiness is like a butterfly – the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” Will you apply that same principle to your creative search?

3. Think less. Audience members and readers alike often ask me, “What were you thinking when you decided to wear a nametag every day for the rest of your life?” Well, that’s just the thing – I wasn’t thinking. I was feeling. I was listening. I was trusting. I was testing. I was risking. I was reacting. But I definitely wasn’t thinking.

And, interestingly enough, that crazy idea turned out to be the single most important decision of my life. As David Mack, writer, illustrator and creator of Daredevil, once told me on an airplane to Cincinnati, “An idea is not any good unless it’s on the verge of being stupid.”

Lesson learned: Think less. Instead, focus on noticing the things that resonate with your soul. Those are the crazy ideas waiting to stand naked in front of the world. Are you a slave to the wrong body part?

4. Become a student of crazy. First, read these books: Ideas That Became Big Business, Inventors At Work, Accidents May Happen and Selling The Scream.

Next, visit my friend Andy Sernovitz’s blog, Damn I Wish I Thought of That! He’ll keep you up to speed on unusually useful ideas for smart marketers. Finally, think of five people you know who had a crazy idea, saw it through, and used it to change the world. Buy them lunch. Probe their brains. And keep your eyes open for the commonalities in their thinking.

These resources combined will increase the probability of replicating the same attributes with your own idea. Are you willing to dedicate yourself to studying the anatomy of crazy?

5. Opportunity never stops knocking. Instead, you stop answering the door. Anyone who says there’s a shortage of great ideas is either stupid or deaf. It’s simple: All you have to do is listen. As Frank Warren said during a PostSecret event in St. Louis, “Great ideas are waiting for that one inspired person to take hold of them.”

Your challenge, whenever you come across these ideas, is to ask yourself, “Did this idea select me?” If so, great. If not, keep listening. There will be more. Are you letting your closed ears commit idea homicide?

6. Absurdities become antidotes. Every day when I slap a new nametag on my shirt, I remind myself of what Einstein once said: “If at first your idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.” Interestingly, Einstein’s greatest scientific discovery sparked from a mental picture he had when he was sixteen years old.

One day, while taking a walk, Albert envisioned himself riding atop of beam of light into outer space, traveling at 299,792,458 meters per second. That ridiculous image helped him better understand accelerated motion. Which helped him create the Theory of Relativity. Which changed the world of science forever. Which earned him the Noble Prize. Which secured his spot in history as the greatest genius of all time.

Why? Because of a totally ridiculous, totally humorous image. In the book How to Think Like Einstein, author Scott Thorpe explains how this principle of melon motivating works:

“Brains have a mechanism that is the mental equivalent of an immune system – it rejects ideas that are foreign to it. But humor suppresses your mental immune system. So, if you treat a new idea humorously, you will be able to explore it more thoroughly because you want immediately reject it. And your mind will be free to make other absurd connections with the seed idea, generating more concepts for solutions.”

Revolutionary ideas come from ridiculous questions. What are you converting your absurdities into?

7. Play the numbers. The best way to have a great idea is to have lots of ideas. The second best way to have a great idea is to have lots of bad ideas. And the third best way to have a great idea is to hang around people who practice the first two.

Do that, and by sheer probability, your crazy idea that (could) change the world will naturally come along. It’s an eventually of probability by transforming yourself into a human lightning rod of creativity. The question is whether or not you will: (a) take notice of the strike, and (b) take massive action when the smoke clears.

Most people fail at both. How will you increase the probability of creative inspiration AND execution?

8. Keep a Crazy Log. Every time you have a crazy idea, write it down in a journal. And as you do, remember to treat each idea with deep democracy. Release the habitual need to appraise or assign value to everything that comes out of your brain. That’s not your decision.

Instead, think of yourself as a journalist. Stay objective. For now, just take the ideas down. Order and evaluation comes later. I promise that over time, you’ll begin to see patterns amidst the craziness. This makes it easier to discern keepers from rubbish when the time comes to stop creating and start judging. Is everything you know written down somewhere?

9. Don’t keep secrets. The aforementioned Frank Warren also mentioned during his talk, “First you keep secrets – then secrets keep you.” I agree. More specifically, secrets keep you FROM: (a) sharing your idea WITH the world, (b) executing your idea IN the world, and (3) leveraging your idea to create change AROUND the world.

Don’t be shy. Don’t bottle up your crazy ideas inside your body. Put your name on it and shout it from the rooftops. You never know who might be listening. Otherwise, you’re only as sick as your secrets. Is your silence halting the momentum of your crazy idea?

10. But you didn’t. If your crazy idea is really that good, odds are, you won’t be the first person who’s ever thought of it before. So, I beg you: Don’t let that discourage you from seeing it to fruition. Most ideas have already been thought of before.

The difference maker is: With enormous amounts of discipline, patience, stick-to-it-ive-ness – and the courage to hang your balls out there – you could be the first person in history to (actually) execute that crazy, world-changing idea. And then, ten years later, when bitter, jealous onlookers start whining, “I could have thought of that!” your only response will be, “Yeah, but you didn’t.”

As Nietzsche once remarked, “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who couldn’t hear the music.” Are you an idea person or an execution person?

11. Crazy ideas require crazy faith. Consider one final quotation from Post Secret’s Frank Warren: “Trust your crazy idea – it might be your destiny.” That’s where faith comes in. That’s when crunch time ensues. When it’s 3 AM and the rest of the world is cold and tired and quiet; and there’s nobody around but you and your crazy idea.

Will you choose to believe? Will you continue plugging away? And will you willingly dissolve your sanity and be considered crazy too? Or, will you cave into an uncourageous corner like another one of the millions of would-be world-changers whose crazy ideas never saw the light of day? If you picked the former, you’re on the right track.

It’s like Einstein once said, “I’m not smarter than anybody else – I just stick with it longer.” How will you strengthen your self-belief to support your crazy idea?

REMEMBER: If it’s not crazy, it’s not going to change the world.

There has never been a better time in the history of the world to have (and execute) your crazy idea.

Strap on your straightjacket. Stand up proud and firm. And declare to the world that you (and your crazy idea) are ready to change it.

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What's your crazy idea?

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

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