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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 July 10, 2019

        30 Best Procrastination Quotes to Get You Back to Work

        30 Best Procrastination Quotes to Get You Back to Work

        What do your 3pm fridge raid and perfectly alphabetised bookshelf have in common?

        You most likely did both of them when you should have been doing work.

        Procrastination is one of the most human behaviours. We’re all guilty of putting off what we know is important from time to time, and it seems the more pressing the task at hand, the better we are at avoiding it.

        Sure, it means that every time we have an important deadline we end up with a spotlessly clean house and a completely empty inbox, but the real work gets left until the very last minute and is finished in a frenzy of stress and caffeine.

        But we can gain control over procrastination by noticing it as soon as possible and stopping it in its tracks. On the contrary, you know you have a bad habit when you’re aware you’re putting something off, and you continue avoiding it anyway.

        To start you off with combating procrastination, here are a few quotes to get you in a motivated frame of mind, because if procrastination has any enemies, it’s motivation to work harder.

        A Few Home Truths

          “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”
          ― Mark Twain


          “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”
          ― Leonardo da Vinci


          “Someday is not a day of the week.”
          ― Janet Dailey


          “Success is not obtained overnight. It comes in instalments; you get a little bit today, a little bit tomorrow until the whole package is given out. The day you procrastinate, you lose that day’s success.”
          ― Israelmore Ayivor


          “The man who waits to know everything is the man who never does anything.”
          ― Craig D. Lounsbrough


          “Procrastination is like going to a fancy restaurant and filling up on bread and not leaving enough room for dinner.”
          ― Richie Norton, The Power of Starting Something Stupid: How to Crush Fear, Make Dreams Happen, and Live without Regret


          “Procrastination is the lazy cousin of fear. When we feel anxiety around an activity, we postpone it.”
          ― Noelle Hancock, My Year with Eleanor


          “Doing things at the last minute reminds us of the importance of doing things at the first minute.”
          ― Matshona Dhliwayo


          “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
          ― Abraham Lincoln


          “A day can really slip by when you’re deliberately avoiding what you’re supposed to do.”
          ― Bill Watterson, There’s Treasure Everywhere


          “By what right do I, who have wasted this day, make claims on tomorrow?”
          ― Alain-Fournier, Le Grand Meaulnes


          “If you want to get ahead in life, I’ve found that perhaps the most useless word in the world is “tomorrow.”
          ― José N. Harris


          Some Practical Advice

            “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
            ― Hilary Mantel


            “Thinking too much leads to paralysis by analysis. It’s important to think things through, but many use thinking as a means of avoiding action.”
            ― Robert Herjavec, The Will To Win: Leading, Competing, Succeeding


            “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone”
            ― Pablo Picasso


            “It is only by working the rituals, that any significant degree of understanding can develop. If you wait until you are positive you understand all aspects of the ceremony before beginning to work, you will never begin to work.”
            ― Lon Milo DuQuette, The Magick of Aleister Crowley: A Handbook of the Rituals of Thelema


            “Do first what you don’t want to do most.”
            ― Clifford Cohen


            “How often do you find yourself saying, “In a minute”, “I’ll get to it” or “Tomorrow’s good enough” and every other possible excuse in the book? Compare it with how often you decide it’s got to be done, so let’s get on and do it! That should tell you just how serious your procrastinating problem really is.”
            ― Stephen Richards, The Secret of Getting Started: Strategies to Triumph over Procrastination


            “How to stop procrastinating starts with believing you can overcome procrastination.”
            ― Robert Moment, How to Stop Procrastinating


            “Never put things off…you will wake up and find them gone.”
            ― James Jones


            Some Tough Love

              “Do something instead of killing time. Because time is killing you.”
              ― Paulo Coelho, Aleph


              “If you take too long in deciding what to do with your life, you’ll find you’ve done it.”
              ― George Bernard Shaw


              “If you want to get ahead in life, I’ve found that perhaps the most useless word in the world is “tomorrow.”
              ― José N. Harris


              “What is deferred is not avoided.”
              ― Thomas More


              “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work”
              ― Chuck Close


              “If you always do what is easy and choose the path of least resistance, you never step outside your comfort zone. Great things don’t come from comfort zones.”
              ― Roy Bennett


              “Your ideas have legs and just as they run through your head, they could be running through someone else’s head and it’s just a matter of who gets to the finish line first. Nothing is new under the sun so act on your ideas.”― Sanjo Jendayi


              “You may not be punished for your procrastination, but for sure you will be punished by your procrastination.”
              ― Debasish Mridha


              When You Need Pulling out of Procrastination

                “Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can’t buy more hours. Scientists can’t invent new minutes. And you can’t save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.”
                ― Denis Waitley


                “A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
                ― Karen Lamb


                Print these quotes out, stick them on the wall in front of your desk – do whatever it takes to remember why you shouldn’t be putting your work off, or getting distracted by a desire to rearrange your socks into colour order.

                It won’t be easy, but being aware of how detrimental procrastination is to your longer-term goals is the first step towards overcoming it.

                More Motivational Quotes

                Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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