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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 January 21, 2020

        What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

        What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

        Do you think of yourself as a creative person? Do you play the drums or do watercolor paintings? Perhaps compose songs or direct plays? Can you even relate to any of these so called ‘creative’ experiences? Growing up, did you ever have that ‘artistic’ sibling or friend who excelled in drawing, playing instruments or literature? And you maybe wondered why you can’t even compose a birthday card greeting–or that drawing stick figures is the furthest you’ll ever get to drawing a family portrait. Many people have this common assumption that creativity is an inborn talent; only a special group of people are inherently creative, and everyone else just unfortunately does not have that special ability. You either have that creative flair or instinct, or you don’t. But, this is far from the truth! So what is creativity?

        Can I Be Creative?

        The fact is, that everyone has an innate creative ability. Despite what most people may think, creativity is a skill that everyone can learn and hone on. It’s a skill with huge leverage that allows you to generate enormous amounts of value from relatively little input. How is that so? You’ll have to start by expanding your definition of creativity. Ironically, you have to be creative and ‘think out of the box’ with the definition! Creativity at its heart, is being able to see things in a way that others cannot. It’s a skill that helps you find new perspectives to create new possibilities and solutions to different problems. So, if you encounter different challenges and problems that need solving on a regular basis, then creativity is an invaluable skill to have.Let’s say, for example, that you work in sales. Having creativity will help you to look for new ways to approach and reach out to potential customers. Or perhaps you’re a teacher. In this role you have to constantly look for new ways to deliver your message and educate your students.

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        How Creativity Works

        Let me break another misconception about creativity, which is that it’s only used to create completely “new” or “original” things. Again, this is far from the truth. Because nothing is ever completely new or original. Everything, including works of art, doesn’t come from nothing. Everything derives from some sort of inspiration. That means that creativity works by connecting things together in order to derive new meaning or value.From this perspective, you can see a lot of creativity in action. In technology, Apple combines traditional computers with design and aesthetics to create new ways to use digital products. In music, a musician may be inspired by various styles of music, instruments and rhythms to create an entirely new type of song. All of these examples are about connecting different ideas, finding common ground amongst the differences, and creating a completely new idea out of them.

        What Really Is Creativity?

        Creativity Needs an Intention

        Another misconception about the creative process is that you can just be in a general “creative” state. Real creativity isn’t about coming up with “eureka!” moments for random ideas. Instead, to be truly creative, you need to have a direction. You have to ask yourself this question: “What problem am I trying to solve?” Only by knowing the answer to this question can you start flexing your creativity muscles. Often times, the idea of creativity is associated with the ‘Right’ brain, with intuition and imagination. Hence a lot of focus is placed on the ‘Right’ brain when it comes to creativity. But, to get the most out of creativity, you need to utilize both sides of your brain–Right and Left–which means using the analytical and logical part of your brain, too. This may sound surprising to you, but creativity has a lot to do with problem solving. And, problem solving inherently involves logic and analysis. So instead of throwing out the ‘Left’ brain, full creativity needs them to work in unison. For example, when you’re looking for new ideas, your ‘Left’ brain will guide you to a place of focus, which is based on your objective behind the ideas you’re searching for. The ‘Right’ brain then guides you to gather and explore based on your current focus. And when you decide to try out these new ideas, your ‘Right’ brain will give you novel solutions outside of the ones you already know. Your ‘Left’ brain then helps you evaluate and tune the solutions to work better in practice. So, logic and creativity actually work hand in hand, and not one at the expense of the other.

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        Creativity Is a Skill

        At the end of the day, creativity is a skill. It’s not some innate or natural born talent that some have over others. What this means is that creativity and innovation can be practiced and improved upon systematically.A skill can be learned and practiced by applying your strongest learning styles. Want to know what your learning style is? Try this test. A skill can be measured and improved through a Feedback Loop, and can be continuously upgraded over time by regular practice. Through regular practice, your creativity goes through different stages of proficiency. This means that you can become more and more creative! If you never thought that creativity was relevant to you, or that you don’t have a knack for being creative… think again! You can use creativity in any aspect of your life. In fact you should use it, as it will allow you to to break through your usual loop, get you out of your comfort zone, and inspire you to grow and try new things. Creativity will definitely give you an edge when you’re trying to solve a problem or come up with new solutions.

        Start Connecting the Dots

        Excited to start honing your creativity? Here at Lifehack, we’ve got a wealth of knowledge to help you get started. We understand that creativity is a matter of connecting things together in order to derive new meaning or value. So, if you want to learn how to start connecting the dots, check out these tips:

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        Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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