I heard a quote once that went something like this, “a man dancing to the music looks like a fool to the deaf man”. It took me a moment to process the idea. But then it came clear to me. If someone is looking at what you do from a different lens than you, you may look foolish to them. If you want to be successful, don’t be afraid to look foolish.
Do you have dreams? Is there something you really want to accomplish? Here’s a simple fact: Most people do not think as you do. Research shows that 80% of people in America do not have big dreams. They do not think about doing things differently. The majority of people in the world do not look through the lens of an entrepreneur, a problem solver, or a “big idea maker”. So, when you talk about big ideas, you sound foolish to them. Therefore, I have some simple advice for you. If you want to pursue your dream, you are going to look foolish to them. So here’s a key to success. Let me repeat it, “don’t be afraid to look foolish”.
Here’s what you are thinking. Looking foolish isn’t fun. To “look foolish” could be an embarrassment if my idea doesn’t pan out. You might be thinking that you don’t want to be made fun of. You don’t want people pointing their finger at you and saying “can you believe what he did?”.
But here’s a simple fact. Almost every great entrepreneur, almost every great inventor, almost every creative mind, looked foolish at some point.
I remember when I was in college, I experimented with this new computer that had been created. (I’m dating myself, I know). This computer was called the “Apple MacIntosh”. And when I told my Computer Science friends about it, they thought I was nuts. I told them that it was going to transform our industry, that it was going to change the way businesses looked at computers, and that we would all use one someday. My friends thought I was being foolish. More importantly, most of the industry thought a guy named Steve Jobs was foolish.
So, who would you rather be? That guy who points fingers and snickers…. or Steve Jobs?
How are some ways that you may look foolish:
- Leave a good job to start a venture you’ve always dreamed of
- Leave the for-profit world to take a lesser paying job in a non-profit that fits your passion
- Change careers at an age when some are starting to make retirement plans, rather than facing burnout
- Refocus your business on the good it can do over the profits it can make
Any time you break with cultural or business norms and try something different, you will be considered foolish by some. This is especially true in the South and the Midwest portions of the United States. We find that attitudes are different here in “flyover country”. On the coasts, people are much more comfortable in taking risks. But in these parts of the country, taking risks is often considered reckless and dangerous.
Why looking foolish is okay
Looking foolish doesn’t sound like a compliment. If I walked up to you at a meeting and said “you look foolish”, you would be pretty upset with me. But true innovators look foolish when they start out.
I remember once when I was working on a new software development platform. My co-workers who were deeply set in traditional ways did not understand why we were looking at new platforms. “The way we do today works,” they said. And it did. Cobol worked as a development platform. DB2 worked as a database. Dumb terminals worked in the office space. Rotary phones worked as a way of communicating. Need to send correspondence? A typed memo sent over interoffice mail took care of it.
Again, dating myself, but once I was asked to give a presentation to the C-suite of my employer. They wanted to know if these “personal computer” things were going to impact the business. Really? They thought of them as toys, used by teachers and students in academia. But what could they possibly do for business? Fortunately, I was right on my assessment. And while some of my peers thought I was foolish again, I proved them wrong.
Later in my career, I had the opportunity to lead a project to move toward a software-based solution for video communications. Traditionalists said that you had to use a hardware codec to effectively transmit video. “The quality isn’t there”, they would say. But guess what, we now communicate with software-based solutions every day, with Zoom, Facetime, Youtube and the like. Streaming video is the norm, not the exception. But it looked foolish at first.
I love this quote:
“Innovation is where the crazy people have stature”, Trillion Dollar Coach, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenburg, Alan Eagle.
Foolishness, the heart of all innovation
Do you want to be seen as an innovator? Are your goals based on the idea that you are going to bring something new, different or innovative to solve a problem in the market? If this sounds like you, be prepared to be called foolish or crazy. That’s okay. It just goes with the territory. Don’t be afraid to look foolish, it fits you.
Apple selling iPhones seemed crazy. Personal computers seemed crazy. Horseless carriages did too (okay, I wasn’t alive for that one).
We have a world crying out for innovation. Healthcare needs innovation. Public safety does too. We need innovative solutions to societal problems like homelessness and Opioid addiction.
Do you have ideas? Do you have dreams that could change the game? Then don’t be afraid to look foolish and make a difference.