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Published on November 17, 2017

Why Smart People Come up With Dumb Ideas

Why Smart People Come up With Dumb Ideas

In July 2014, a bunch of engineering graduates — very smart people — decided they had identified a pain point that could become a company. The pain point was that, our search results (think Google) and our News Feed (think Facebook) are personalized; but our homes, where we spend the majority of our time, are not. They founded a startup called Lumos and decided to begin building smart Internet-connected switches to make home personalization a thing. People could install them in their home. The switches would learn from people’s behaviors like when they enter or leave home, and what times they use certain appliances, and personalize all the electric appliances in a home.

It seemed like a great idea. If it could, it seemed to be a multi-billion dollar market.

But it eventually died out. It never had the chance to become an Apple, Google, or Facebook.

Lumos failed. Why? The founders were smart, driven guys. They were working 14-hour days for five-six months. How is this possible?

They failed for many reasons including a lack of due diligence, not being the target users of their product, misunderstanding the market and cost structure, and more.

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But one of the biggest problem was that, the ideas weren’t really there. The product-market fit didn’t make sense. Neither did the cost structure. They had doubts but weren’t transparent about them. A sunk cost bias sunk in.[1]

So yes, smart people can come up with bad ideas. And it happens rather consistently.

The main issue is that we generally assume this formula to be true:

Smart = Always Right = Successful?

    This formula creates a situation where it’s difficult to admit having made mistakes or having done something wrong. If we admit a wrong, we’re not smart enough and not successful. No one wants to feel that way.

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    There is also a “sunk cost bias,” which means it’s difficult to let go of things you’ve invested in. This was actually a problem with Lumos. They couldn’t abandon some of their original ideas and suffered as a result.

    Success is easy to see and visually presents itself well: nice car, big house, good salary, flashy clothes, etc. But usually success is preceded by tons and tons of failure.

    James Dyson’s vacuum cleaners is a great example.

      You see the success: his name is on the vacuum, and somewhat synonymous with the vacuum brand. What you don’t see is that it took him 5,126 attempts to finally get the vacuum right. You don’t see the 5,126 failures.

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      What’s the formula we should use? Try this one:

      Truly Smart = Right + Wrong = Successful

        If you understand that failures are progress, and mistakes made can contribute to true success, you will be better off.

        Prove Yourself Wrong

        You think an idea is perfect? It’s not. Doubt yourself. It’s a way to show how much effort you’ve invested in yourself.

        Understand that failures are progress and that mistakes made will contribute to true success. No matter how much you’ve invested in something, you can still challenge it and grow it to something else.

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        One of the most successful stocks of the last 30 years is a little-known company called Balchem, which has grown 107, 099 percent (not a typo) since 1985. One of the hallmarks of Balchem is admitting and embracing failure. Their stock has significantly outperformed Apple, Amazon, and other top companies during that time. Much of it is rooted in understanding that failure will be there (and often) before success will.[2]

        Look Past Your Effort

        You can defeat the sunk cost issue by looking at the effort you’ve put into something as options to review, not obligations.[3]

        For example, if you sink money into anything, view it as in-progress with the parts as options for future use. Don’t necessarily think that you have to go down the original route you were planning. Remember: Twitter was initially designed to be a platform for podcasting. The founders didn’t stick with that, and elements of Twitter (Arab Spring, etc.) have legitimately changed the world. Don’t be beholden to your first idea.

        Admit Being Dumb Is the New Smart

        Smart people are never satisfied with what they know. They want to get out and learn more and experience more. Less-intelligent people learn a little bit and think they’re set. They don’t grow.

        That’s the essential part. Life, and acquiring knowledge, is about growing. That means failing and missing on ideas. That’s the crucial element. Without that, it’s very hard to know whether an idea is truly good or “vetted.”

        Lean into the skid, embrace failure, and see the effort you’ve sunk in as a future option, not a definitive obligation. Your process of arriving at the truly smart idea will only become more refined.

        Reference

        More by this author

        Leon Ho

        Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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        Published on July 17, 2018

        How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

        How Productive People Compartmentalize Time to Get the Most Done

        I’ve never believed people are born productive or organized. Being organized and productive is a choice.

        You choose to keep your stuff organized or you don’t. You choose to get on with your work and ignore distractions or you don’t.

        But one skill very productive people appear to have that is not a choice is the ability to compartmentalize. And that takes skill and practice.

        What is compartmentalization

        To compartmentalize means you have the ability to shut out all distractions and other work except for the work in front of you. Nothing gets past your barriers.

        In psychology, compartmentalization is a defence mechanism our brains use to shut out traumatic events. We close down all thoughts about the traumatic event. This can lead to serious mental-health problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if not dealt with properly.

        However, compartmentalization can be used in positive ways to help us become more productive and allow us to focus on the things that are important to us.

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        Robin Sharma, the renowned leadership coach, calls it his Tight Bubble of Total Focus Strategy. This is where he shuts out all distractions, turns off his phone and goes to a quiet place where no one will disturb him and does the work he wants to focus on. He allows nothing to come between himself and the work he is working on and prides himself on being almost uncontactable.

        Others call it deep work. When I want to focus on a specific piece of work, I turn everything off, turn on my favourite music podcast The Anjunadeep Edition (soft, eclectic electronic music) and focus on the content I intend to work on. It works, and it allows me to get massive amounts of content produced every week.

        The main point about compartmentalization is that no matter what else is going on in your life — you could be going through a difficult time in your relationships, your business could be sinking into bankruptcy or you just had a fight with your colleague; you can shut those things out of your mind and focus totally on the work that needs doing.

        Your mind sees things as separate rooms with closable doors, so you can enter a mental room, close the door and have complete focus on whatever it is you want to focus on. Your mind does not wander.

        Being able to achieve this state can seriously boost your productivity. You get a lot more quality work done and you find you have a lot more time to do the things you want to do. It is a skill worth mastering for the benefits it will bring you.

        How to develop the skill of compartmentalization

        The simplest way to develop this skill is to use your calendar.

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        Your calendar is the most powerful tool you have in your productivity toolbox. It allows you to block time out, and it can focus you on the work that needs doing.

        My calendar allows me to block time out so I can remove everything else out of my mind to focus on one thing. When I have scheduled time for writing, I know what I want to write about and I sit down and my mind completely focuses on the writing.

        Nothing comes between me, my thoughts and the keyboard. I am in my writing compartment and that is where I want to be. Anything going on around me, such as a problem with a student, a difficulty with an area of my business or an argument with my wife is blocked out.

        Understand that sometimes there’s nothing you can do about an issue

        One of the ways to do this is to understand there are times when there is nothing you can do about an issue or an area of your life. For example, if I have a student with a problem, unless I am able to communicate with that student at that specific time, there is nothing I can do about it.

        If I can help the student, I would schedule a meeting with the student to help them. But between now and the scheduled meeting there is nothing I can do. So, I block it out.

        The meeting is scheduled on my calendar and I will be there. Until then, there is nothing I can do about it.

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        Ask yourself the question “Is there anything I can do about it right now?”

        This is a very powerful way to help you compartmentalize these issues.

        If there is, focus all your attention on it to the exclusion of everything else until you have a workable solution. If not, then block it out, schedule time when you can do something about it and move on to the next piece of work you need to work on.

        Being able to compartmentalize helps with productivity in another way. It reduces the amount of time you spend worrying.

        Worrying about something is a huge waste of energy that never solves anything. Being able to block out issues you cannot deal with stops you from worrying about things and allows you to focus on the things you can do something about.

        Reframe the problem as a question

        Reframing the problem as a question such as “what do I have to do to solve this problem?” takes your mind away from a worried state into a solution state, where you begin searching for solutions.

        One of the reasons David Allen’s Getting Things Done book has endured is because it focuses on contexts. This is a form of compartmentalization where you only do work you can work on.

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        For instance, if a piece of work needs a computer, you would only look at the work when you were in front of a computer. If you were driving, you cannot do that work, so you would not be looking at it.

        Choose one thing to focus on

        To get better at compartmentalizing, look around your environment and seek out places where you can do specific types of work.

        Taking your dog for a walk could be the time you focus solely on solving project problems, commuting to and from work could be the time you spend reading and developing your skills and the time between 10 am and 12 pm could be the time you spend on the phone sorting out client issues.

        Once you make the decision about when and where you will do the different types of work, make it stick. Schedule it. Once it becomes a habit, you are well on your way to using the power of compartmentalization to become more productive.

        Comparmentalization saves you stress

        Compartmentalization is a skill that gives you time to deal with issues and work to the exclusion of all other distractions.

        This means you get more work done in less time and this allows you to spend more time with the people you want to spend more time with, doing the things you want to spend more time doing.

        Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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