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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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        Last Updated on November 14, 2018

        Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

        Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

        Do you find yourself constantly feeling busy? Or, maybe you feel like you have too much on your plate? Perhaps you have a to-do list with no end in sight, or many responsibilities to juggle on a daily basis at work. When you get home, you have household responsibilities to take care of, too, and it just seems like you never have much time for a breather.

        Being busy is good, it’s better than not having anything to do and letting time slip away. But, what many people don’t realize is, being busy doesn’t always mean you’re being productive. The more time you take to complete something does not equal to more success. Many people end up falling into this trap as they pack their day with tasks and errands that may sometimes produce little outcome or output for the effort that they’ve put in.

        For example, let’s say that your washing machine at home broke down and you need to fix it. Instead of calling the handyman to come, your husband decides he’s going to fix the machine. He ends up spending half a day figuring out the machine, and does eventually fix it. He did however have to make a trip to the tool shop to buy some extra tools and parts for the machine. Now, if you had called the handy man, it would probably have taken the handyman much less time, and he would have all the necessary tools and parts already, because that is his job. So in this instance, was your husband’s time and effort worth it? Oh, and because he took half the day fixing the machine, you now had to take over his duties of dropping the kids off at soccer and swim practice.

        We Need Not Be That Busy

        I hope you would agree, that it would have been ideal to delegate this task to the handyman. That would have saved you time and effort, so that you and your husband could focus on doing other things that were more important to you, like being there for your kids or spending time with each other. This is just one example of how we often impose busyness on ourselves without us even realizing it.

        But, I’m going to show you just how you can gain quality time from external sources. Whatever big goals or ambitions that you may have, it’s normal for them to involve a lot more of your time than you first expect. I’m talking about things like starting a new business, changing careers, perhaps even moving to a new city. New challenges often involve things that are outside of our experience and expertise, so covering all the bases ourselves is sometimes not feasible as it takes too much time to learn and do everything.

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        You Are Just One Person

        At the end of the day, you are just one person, and you have a limited amount of time. So, you have to do things that are meaningful to you. While an overall goal may be meaningful, not all of the milestones needed to get there may be meaningful. Because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, not every task will be enjoyable or all fun & games. Some simply require pure willpower and discipline to grind through. And that is where delegation comes in.

        What is Delegation?

        You may hear this term a lot in the business or corporate world; it’s an effective way for managers to distribute (or sometimes avoid!) work. But, that’s not what I’m referring to. Instead, delegation means leveraging time from an outside source to give you opportunities to increase your quality time. By outside source, we simply mean that it’s not your own time that you’re spending.

        What Should You Delegate?

        To delegate effectively, it has to be done with deliberate intention. So the aim of delegation is to create more quality time for yourself. There are 3 types of tasks that you should generally delegate, called the Delegation Triangle.

        The first are tasks you don’t enjoy doing. These are things that you know how to do, but don’t enjoy. Second, are tasks you shouldn’t do. These are things you know how to do and may even enjoy, but may not be the best use of your time. Third, are tasks you can’t do. These are things that need doing, but you don’t have the skills or expertise to follow through with them at this moment.

        Have a look through your daily tasks and responsibilities, and see if you can fit them under these 3 categories.

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        Pitfalls of Delegation

        Using the Delegation Triangle, you can decide which tasks are worth delegating. In theory, it might look easy to sort actions at first glance; but often, it’s actually harder than you think! 

        One such example, is diverting time on tasks you shouldn’t do. Let’s go back to the washing machine example. Your husband decides to fix it on his own instead of simply getting an expert to fix it. Why? Because it’s probably a challenge he enjoys, and it’s an accomplishment that would bring him satisfaction. However, if the value of the task is too low, you really ought to delegate it to others.

        Sometimes, when you have a larger goal in mind, you might have to sacrifice some actions in return for making progress. Always think about the bigger picture! One thing that can help you avoid this pitfall is to keep your deadlines in mind whenever you set milestones for a project or task.

        Deadlines are a commitment to yourself, and every bit of time is precious. So if an activity you’re focusing on is taking time away from progress towards your goal, it may be time to let go of it for now. You can always decide to pick it up again later.

        Then there’s the other extreme of delegation. And that’s when you start delegating everything you dislike doing to external sources.Sometimes it’s tempting to abuse delegation and get carried away outsourcing everything on your “don’t like doing” list.

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        Some people are too picky on what they’re going to do. But sometimes, if you don’t like doing so but you’re the only one who can do it, you still need to finish the job. At the end of the day, it does take your own hard work and effort to achieve the success you want.

        So if you find that you’re constantly running into this problem of over delegating, then it may be time to re-evaluate your motivation, or reason for doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

        Ask yourself, “Is this task contributing towards a meaningful objective that I want to achieve?” and “what kind of progress do I make each time I carry out the task myself?” If the task is both meaningful and creates progress, then the next step is to ask yourself questions that can help you create actions.

        What obstacles are causing you to avoid this task? Is it because of low confidence in your ability? Do you think someone else can do a better job? Is it your level of focus? Or is there an alternative action you can take that can produce the same results?

        Take Action Now

        Take a look at your current tasks or to-do’s that you have planned this week. Which tasks are possible candidates that fall under the Delegation Triangle? Are there any that fall under the pitfalls mentioned above? Which tasks can you immediately identify that should be delegated out right now?

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        I hope this exercise helps declutter your tasks and responsibilities a little and allows you to see how much more time you can be saving for more important things. But, this is not the end of delegation. After you’ve sorted out the tasks that can be delegated, the next step is to determine who it should be delegated to. Besides people like your co workers, or spouse/family members, did you know that there is a whole delegating industry out there?

        If you’re keen to learn more about this delegating industry, and find out how you can decide who’s the best fit to do your delegated tasks, subscribe to our newsletter today. We will help you discover many more skills that will boost your productivity by leaps and bounds!

        Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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