How do you really know if your impossible idea is so crazy it just may work, or so crazy it’s just not possible to execute and thus should be left on the drawing board with all the other half-baked and dead-end ideas?
A good place to start is with these three things we learned from launching a business that everyone (including ourselves) believed was destined to fail, and which today, is going full steam ahead with no signs of slowing down.
Stop predicting and start doing
In our data-driven, future-orientated society, it’s easy to think we always know what’s coming next. After all, we do have the data and the foresight to make some pretty accurate predictions.
But despite the best guessing of Wall Street and the media, it’s impossible for anyone to know what lays over the horizon. Not even expert forecasters can say anything with any real certainty.
Stating this point doesn’t really help when you’re trying to launch a new idea. But realizing what this means on the flip-side does help: that we can never know for sure what’s not going to work.
Of course, there are some ideas that are just plain stupid and that a child could predict won’t take off. But the fact is, even some of those ideas can turn out to be successes or, more likely, evolve into something greater — who would have thought the modern day bicycle would come from the thought to put wheels on a horse?
There’s no better way to find out what will work than to try it out. You can always adjust later. As venture capitalist and podcaster James Altucher says, you won’t know before you have the first date. You’ll know when you start to kiss.
Who says what’s possible?
A few years back, the founder of the billion-dollar VR company Oculus was tinkering around in his garage with some smartphone screens and gaming engines. He was pretty damn smart, of course, but what made him different from all the other people doing the same thing was that, at only 17, he hadn’t yet been tainted by what was and what wasn’t ‘possible’.
A lot of what we now consider as possible came out of what was once thought of as impossible. New ideas exist not in the familiar, everyday domains, but on the fringes — in the confluences of thing that have never been brought together or thought of in particular ways.
Being creative is all about being able to generate these seemingly impossible and barmy associations and connections. It’s about noticing a million different possibilities and also a million different impossibilities, and then having the audacity to try out the ones that sound least possible of all.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but the impossible is defined only by what you believe isn’t possible. It’s no coincidence that many of the world’s greatest thinkers who came up with paradigm-shifting inventions didn’t succumb to the indoctrination of society’s or schooling’s limited ideas about what they think that is.
You never have to fail
It’s one thing to hear Confucius say, “A man is great not because he hasn’t failed; a man is great because failure hasn’t stopped him.” , but when not only your credibility and profession are on the line, but your livelihood and that of your family, it’s another thing to go ahead and take his word for it.
To use failure to our advantage and be able to learn and grow from it, we first need to make sure it’s not also tied up with failing at life — i.e. by not being able to maintain a steady income or pay the bills next month.
Without such pressures weighing on top of us, we’re free to fail as much as we please. Liberating, yes — but it still doesn’t do much to change the fact that failing sucks.
We often hear how creative people and inventors throughout history — such as Thomas Edison with the lightbulb — failed many many times before they got to where they did. But even to claim such a thing is to impose the idea that they only did what they did to achieve a particular outcome.
The irony, of course, is that they did achieve some pretty damn good outcomes. But the thing is, they only managed to do so because they saw the process not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. They (often to the point of obsession) loved what they did — and so failure to them wouldn’t be measured by the number of unseen artworks or attempts to create a working filament, but by the time and dedication and relentless and whole-hearted energy they put toward their crafts.
By this model of failure, such people embody success every single time they pick up the paintbrush, put on the lab coat, or sit down in front of the laptop. And if they happen to make a ‘success’ of it, well, that’s just gravy.