Ridiculing good new ideas
“The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.”
“The future belongs to those who consistently search for room to improve while others exhaust their opportunities by railing against change.”
— PJ Wade
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
— George Bernard Shaw
“Humanity's hopes are pinned on the introduction of transformative technologies but progress can be impeded by unreasonable obstruction to change.”
— Professor Calestous Juma, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Excerpt from Why important innovations stall: “The study presents in-depth case studies of opposition to innovation, including … alternating current, refrigeration, recorded music … Both coffee and tractors … were the targets of smear campaigns. Other tactics included demonization, rumors, slander, efforts to restrict use through legislation, and outright bans. … In 17th century Italy, coffee was called "Satan's Drink" … In England, France, and Germany, coffee was said to cause sterility. … refrigerated products [were called] "Embalmed Foods" … Swedes dubbed the early telephone the "Devil's Instrument."”
“That's cute — but don't tell anyone about it.”
— Steven J. Sasson, inventor of the first digital camera in the 1970s, describing management's reaction at Kodak, then one of the world's five most valuable brands
“Over the years, I have learned that every significant invention has several characteristics. By definition it must be startling, unexpected, and must come into a world that is not prepared for it. If the world were prepared for it, it would not be much of an invention.”
— A Talk with Polaroid's Dr. Edwin Land (Forbes, April 1, 1975)
“I believe it is pretty well established now that neither the intuition of the sales manager nor even the first reaction of the public is a reliable measure of the value of a product to the consumer. Very often the best way to find out whether something is worth making is to make it, distribute it, and then to see, after the product has been around a few years, whether it was worth the trouble.”
— Dr. Edwin Land
“If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.”
— Orville Wright
“It's nice when people agree, but if everyone thought along the same lines all the time, nothing would ever change. Every company needs mavericks. … Schools are all about being able to fit in. Many businesses then follow suit and encourage people to toe the line. The people who really make a difference are often those who don't quite fit in. The ones who don't act in the same way as everyone else and take risks rather than following the status quo.”
— Richard Branson in Yes Men? No Thanks!
“Why spend your life trying to fit in, when you are born to stand out?”
— Ziad K. Abdelnour in Economic Warfare: Secrets of Wealth Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics
“Getting to the future is always held up by those trying to protect the past.”
— Ziad K. Abdelnour (ibid.)
“If you can't be unconventional, be obtuse. Be deliberately obtuse, because there are 5 billion people out there thinking in train tracks, and thinking what they have been taught to think.”
— James Dyson
“I employ brilliant young graduates with no experience at all. I want free-thinkers who can take the company forward, and have revolutionary ideas.”
— James Dyson
“Why do really big ideas tend to come from small places?”
— The Philosophy of Innovation
“The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”
— Walter Bagehot
“Nearly every innovation is initially misunderstood by the so-called ‘experts.’ In truth, scrutiny and doubt are just part of the toll we pay to take the path less traveled. … When investors – and the general public – shun something simply because it is foreign and new … well, this means you are likely one (or more) steps beyond the status quo, which is a good thing!”
— Scott Belsky
“The most passionately creative types that end up providing the world with the most innovative ideas are the ones (at least initially) who are met with the most resistance from the status quo.”
— Andrea Kuszewski in Creativity: A Crime Of Passion
“If you're doing something hard, innovative, or interesting — in short, something worth doing — you're going to get criticized.”
— Henry Blodget
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
— Andre Gide
“There is nothing so powerful as an open, inquiring mind. … The world is full of people who have stopped learning and who think they've got it all figured out. … Their favorite word is “No.” They will give you a million reasons why something can't be done or shouldn't be done. Don't listen to them, don't be deterred by them, and don't become one of them.”
— Mike Bloomberg in Top 5 Tips for Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur
“All the neat stuff comes out of nowhere.”
— Geoffrey Moore in Open Innovation: Top-Down Meets Bottom-Up
“If you can, go after a giant problem, one of the great problems of our time, a problem that, if solved, would usher in an era of large-scale transformation across industries and nations. It won't be simple. The really big problems are big problems for a reason. … Many venture capitalists today say they're looking for the next big idea. But they aren't really; they're looking for something derivative, because derivative is safer. These VCs are obsessed with de-risking venture investing. They focus so much on models and metrics that they have stopped focusing on big ideas and vision. … [Peter Thiel said] "People do the same old thing because they think it's less risky. We think it's actually riskier to do the same thing as everyone else. It's risky to be a lemming."”
— Jose Ferreira in There's a Reason It's Called "Venture" Capital
“The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.”
— John Maynard Keynes
“Einstein did the creative work that the entirety of the academic community couldn't because he was not fully indoctrinated in their dominant logic. He never drank the Kool-Aid.”
— UM Professor Jeff DeGraff in The Joys Of Screwing Up
“Einstein's E=mc2, Galileo's sun-centered solar system, and Darwin's theory of evolution
were laughed at for years by experts around the world. … Paul C. Lauterbur, winner of the Nobel Prize for coinventing MRI, explained, "You can write the entire history of science in the last 50 years in terms of papers rejected by Science or Nature." Big ideas in all fields endure dismissals, mockeries, and persecutions (of them and their creators) on their way to changing the world.”
— The Myths of Innovation, Chapter 4
“Divergence from the status quo is the essence of ingenuity.”
— Excerpted from It's Not 'Mess.' It's Creativity.
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom, and the enemy of growth.”
— President Kennedy addressing the UN General Assembly
“They're eccentric… The best employees are often a little different: quirky, sometimes irreverent, even delighted to be unusual. They seem slightly odd, but in a really good way. Unusual personalities shake things up … People who aren't afraid to be different naturally stretch boundaries and challenge the status quo, and they often come up with the best ideas.”
— Jeff Haden in 8 Qualities of Remarkable Employees
“Invention requires a long-term willingness to be misunderstood.”
— Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO
“When someone shares a “crazy idea,” the instinct is to cite all the reasons why it wouldn't work—shutting it down with a “No, but” response. Imagine how much untapped potential could be released into the world if more of us opened our minds—and ears—and responded with a “Yes, and” to wild-eyed outliers …”
— IDEO CEO Tim Brown in Why Better Listeners are Better Innovators
“Dogs bark at what they don't know.”
— Gijs van Wulfen in Companies Frustrate Innovative Employees
“The pioneers take the most arrows.”
— Google's Larry Page on Why Moon Shots Matter
“You're likelier to find a mermaid in the elevator than an empowered visionary in the [corporate] conference room.”
— Steve Faktor in Empower Your Visionaries
“Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you'll have to ram it down their throats.”
— Howard Aiken, computing pioneer
“Lots of people know a good thing the minute the other fellow sees it first.”
— Job E. Hodges
Great advances are often met with resistance and mocked by people who think that someone must be a nut for not thinking like others.
In 1905, Orville and Wilbur Wright tried to interest the United States War Department in their new invention, a practical airplane, but they were repeatedly turned down. The War Department initially thought that they were crackpots, and later deemed the airplane to be of no military significance.
Lord Kelvin said, “Radio has no future” and “X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” Thomas Edison claimed, “They never will try to steal the phonograph; it is of no commercial value.”
More examples of underestimating what is possible:
“There is no need for any individual to have a computer in their home.”
— Ken Olson, President, Digital Equipment Corp (1977)
“What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”
— Michael Dell, on Apple in 1997. Apple is now worth more than Microsoft, IBM, HP, and is over ten times as valuable as Dell.
“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”
— Lord Kelvin
“Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure.”
— Henry Morton, President of the Stevens Institute of Technology, on Edison's incandescent lamp (1880)
“Fooling around with alternating current [AC] is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.”
— Thomas Edison (1889) Almost every home and business is now powered by AC.
“The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”
— Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office (1878)
“This telephone has too many shortcomings to be considered as a means of communication. The device is of inherently no value to us.”
— Western Union internal memo (1876)
“It's a great invention, but who would want to use it anyway?”
— President Rutherford B. Hayes, after seeing a demonstration of Alexander Bell's telephone
“A man has been arrested in New York for attempting to extort funds from ignorant and superstitious people by exhibiting a device which he says will convey the human voice any distance over metallic wires so that it will be heard by the listener at the other end. He calls this instrument a telephone. Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires.”
New York newspaper (1868)
“While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.”
— Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube (1926)
“Transmission of documents via telephone wires is possible in principle, but the apparatus required is so expensive that it will never become a practical proposition.”
— Dennis Gabor, Hungarian-British electrical engineer and Nobel Prize-winning inventor of holography (1962)
“Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.”
— New York Times editorial ridiculing Robert Goddard's pioneering rocket work (1921). He knew Newton's third of motion; the New York Times did not.
“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth's atmosphere.”
— New York Times, 1936
“… not only did many people not understand why it was necessary, but plenty of them scoffed at the notion that such a thing could even exist.”
— Salvatore Basile in Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything
“The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it today. Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated.”
— Dr. Alfred Velpeau, French surgeon (1839)
“This is the biggest fool thing we have ever done [research on]. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.”
— Admiral William Leahy, advising President Truman on atomic weaponry (1945)
“The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most.”
— IBM telling the eventual founders of Xerox that the photocopier market was not large enough to justify production (1959)
“Television won't last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
— Darryl Zanuck, Hollywood studio executive (1946)
“No one will pay good money to get from Berlin to Potsdam in one hour when he can ride his horse there in one day for free.”
— King William I of Prussia, commenting on trains (1864)
“That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.”
— Scientific American magazine (1909)
“The horse is here to stay, the automobile is only a fad.”
— Advice given by a bank president to Horace Rackham, who ignored it and invested $5000 in Ford stock, later selling it for $12.5 million, equivalent to $312 million in 2011 dollars (1903)
“So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.'”
— Steve Jobs
“There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”
— Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 2007
“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year.”
— Prentice Hall business book editor, 1957
The greater the innovation, the more outlandish it often seems, especially when the inventor expresses a vision of what might result from that technology. If the inventors of the transistor said, “We will turn sand into microchips worth their weight in gold that will lead to a technological revolution that transforms our lives,” they would have been looked at as if they were crazy. Imagine the reaction: “You're gonna turn sand into what? Are you nuts?”
“If people aren't calling you crazy, you aren't thinking big enough.”
— Richard Branson
“Crazy ideas sometimes work, and the technological society that we have is built on a foundation of those crazy ideas that work.”
— Nathan Myhrvold
“I was a nerdy guy who, in most companies, I don't think would have risen or been backed, anything like Bill [Gates] backed me. One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me … I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you've ever suggested. Please proceed.’”
— Nathan Myhrvold
“Most of the breakthrough technologies/companies seem crazy at first: PCs, the Internet, Bitcoin, Airbnb, Uber, 140 characters … It has to be something where, when people look at it, at first they say, ‘I don't get it, I don't understand it. I think it's too weird, I think it's too unusual.’”
— Marc Andreessen
“All new ideas go through that process of—not just rejection—but insanity.”
— Mike Rowe, speaking of how truly new ideas are viewed as being nuts, such as how the first people who brushed their teeth were considered oddballs.
Mark Twain said, “A man with a new idea is a crank—until the idea succeeds.”
Frank Zappa wisely noted that “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”
A chemist who did what was considered impossible urged others “to think outside the box and not be inhibited or intimidated about sharing ... new and unconventional ideas.”
“It always seems impossible until it's done.”
— Nelson Mandela
“It's kind of fun to do the impossible.”
— Walt Disney
“The impossible is often the untried.”
— Jim Goodwin
“Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.”
— Louis Brandeis, lawyer and United States Supreme Court Justice
Michel Mirowski, the sole member of his family to survive the Holocaust, later became a physician who invented the implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). Great idea, right? Yes, but rather than initially being praised for his brilliant breakthrough, “a critical editorial was published in Circulation by the leader in the field at the time . The editorial galvanized the cardiology community to reject the ICD and consequently ostracize Dr. Mirowski and his colleagues. Fortunately, Dr. Mirowski and his team persevered and eventually witnessed the first patient implanted with the ICD in 1980.”
“Most large industrial concerns are limited by policy to special directions of expansion within the well-established field of the company. On the other hand, most small companies do not have the resources or the facilities to support "scientific prospecting." Thus the young man leaving the university with a proposal for a new kind of activity is frequently not able to find a matrix for the development of his ideas in any established industrial organization.”
— Dr. Edwin Land
“What may seem strange today has a solid shot at being the next big thing tomorrow.”
— Andrew Reid in How Technology Complicates, Benefits Innovation
“Bill [Gates] and I had been searching for the next big thing. … I was drawn by nature to people who, like me, were eager to see what might come next and wanted to try to make it happen. … I want to keep stretching the boundaries of the possible; I want my thinking to stay forward-looking and unconstrained. What is next? That's a question that will never get old for me. I'll always be on the hunt for the next Big Idea.”
— Paul Allen in Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft
“Decades ago no one said, "Don't tell Kodak, Polaroid, or Motorola about digital technology. Let's keep it a secret." The future of technology was there for them to see (just like other companies saw it). However, Kodak, Polaroid, and Motorola were so busy protecting and defending the status quo that they completely missed the opportunity that was right in front of them. Protect and defend can get you into trouble.”
— Daniel Burrus, author of Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible, in It's Time to Change Your Outlook on Change
Comment: That insight should be obvious, yet most CEOs don't get it. Corporations typically stagnate and lose market share to pipsqueak companies fueled by better ideas. Commenting on that article, Orysya Birkkjær offered brilliant advice to CEOs: “How about taking a look at those disruptions that are already heading your way and figuring out how you can be the disruptor rather than the disrupted?”
If you study the history of science and technology, you will see that the old guard uses ostracism and ridicule to defend their antiquated positions. One cannot be a truly great scientist or inventor without having ideas that are a step or two ahead of current thinking. The claim to fame of the experts is their mastery of that knowledge base, so they often jealously guard attempts by innovators to expand it.
If you multiply the average number of lives saved by ICDs per year by the number of years ICD acceptance was delayed by the old guard, you will arrive at a death toll that is a direct result of close-mindedness.
Close-mindedness is a recipe for intellectual and economic stagnation. If there is one thing the United States needs now, it is a number of great outside-the-box ideas because inside-the-box ideas won't be enough to save us and restore our prosperity. But who has the courage to propose outside-the-box ideas? Who wants to be ridiculed for proposing something new?
Close-mindedness in healthcare is also a recipe for death. I developed two new ways to curb HIV transmission because the current approaches are woefully ineffective. I contacted the Hates Foundation that is interested in HIV/AIDS, but evidently not new ideas, because they never responded to my letter. As a doctor, I know my breakthroughs would save millions of lives. Why not give me 15 seconds to present them? Why? Because they have big heads, not big ideas. People with lots of money or power often acquire an overblown sense of their intelligence, capabilities, and opinions. They are correct; others are wrong—or so they think.
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly.”
— Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince
Our politicians think they are earning their paychecks by investing our money in roads, bridges, trains, and other relics from the 19th century. Our calendars are now in the 21st century; shouldn't our technology be, too?
We could step into the 21st century and put our economy on steroids, as I discussed in another article, but politicians lack the guts and vision to propose novel solutions. The tacit message is: let's just keep doing what we've been doing, even though that is clearly not enough.
Years ago, I thought of another solution that could end our seemingly endless recession and catapult our economy into a new golden age. My idea should appeal to everyone from staunch conservatives to bleeding-heart liberals and everybody in between with common sense, but my plan will inevitably meet resistance by people and politicians who prefer to do things the old way. The old way buried us under a mountain of debt, and no one other than me has a viable solution for quickly digging us out of that hole and ascending a new peak of greatness. Just as it is possible in retrospect to regret the delayed introduction of the ICD (as discussed above) secondary to close-mindedness, people in the future will one day regret not having my proposal implemented sooner.
Corporations stagnate and die when their pace of innovation stalls, leaving them in the dust of their competitors with better ideas. The USA once was a nation of imaginative people with ideas that enabled us to quickly become an economic superpower. However, our pace of genuine innovation has slowed, and our country is slipping down a slope that will carry us to an economic hell. The need for big new ideas is greater than ever, but our businesses think minor tweaks are synonymous with true invention, and our leaders dare not do anything except rehash freeze-dried ideas from bygone American politicians.
“So-called 'peer-review' is an oxymoron: if an idea is actually new, then the existence of peers is obviously impossible, which is why almost all of the truly valuable ideas and inventions have come from people who were totally outside the scientific community, people like Edison, Tesla, the Wright Brothers and a long list of others.”
— Arthur Jones
Studies have shown that most scientists tend to follow the pack with a “follow the leader” mentality. Those people do valuable work by conducting the nuts-and-bolts research that needs to be done, but they aren't the mavericks who generate new ideas.
“Most people try to achieve the achievable; that’s why most goals and targets are incremental rather than massive or even inconceivable. Incremental is safe. Believable is safe. Why? Because you’re less likely to fall short. You’re less likely to fail. You’re less likely to lose credibility and authority. … [But those with the courage to believe the unbelievable] bring you along for what turns out to be an unbelievable ride.”
— Jeff Haden in 12 Qualities of Remarkably Courageous People
“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. Scientists made a great invention by calling their activities hypotheses and experiments. They made it permissible to fail repeatedly until in the end they got the results they wanted. In politics or government, if you made a hypothesis and it didn't work out, you had your head cut off.”
— Edwin Land, quoted in A Genius and His Magic Camera in LIFE magazine (October 27, 1972) and The Instant Image: Edwin Land and the Polaroid Experience (1978)
Most people don't like creative ideas. They say they do, but researchers found that creative ideas elicited strongly negative reactions. They said that creative ideas “can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.” Even when there is a desperate need for change and the creative solution is wholly positive, most folks prefer to cling to the old way of doing things.
“A new idea should terrify us, challenging our worldview, the very core of our beliefs. Those who are most complacent and comfortable with the present—or worse, a nostalgic past—are likely to remain trapped inside it forever. It is the uncomfortable and dissatisfied ones who take the risks and ultimately create our future.”
— Ron Baker
Antipathy or resistance to new ideas is likely a relic of our genetic heritage, similar to xenophobia, that served us well in earlier times during human evolution, which is why they persisted. Think about it: eons ago, the people most likely to survive were those who did what was tried and true: what most people did. Explorers who tried eating new plants, chasing bigger animals, thinking they'd get more meat, often got more than they bargained for: toxic plants or animals that made a meal out of them. That made people almost allergic to new ideas, preferring the safety of old ones. New ideas occasionally helped the innovators, but the risk-to-benefit ratio favored the cowards who clung to old ideas and methods.
It's different now. Most experimentation can be done safely, drawing on mankind's vast information resources. I've tried thousands of new things, such as a new method to conceal acne and a new way to treat a common infection that—shazam!—KO'd it considerably faster than any antibiotic. I could fill a book or two just listing all of the things I've tried, none of which ever hurt me. Now it's the cowards afraid to try new things who are at a disadvantage, but our genes have not caught up to that reality. They tell us to fear new ideas, and most folks listen.
(Responding to, “Which myth is the one that almost all companies subscribe to and can be the most crippling?”)
“ … the "Mousetrap Myth," the belief that once a good idea is generated, getting it implemented is easy. This comes from the maxim "If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." It turns out that this saying is quite backwards. In most cases, when a great idea or innovation is presented to the world it is typically rejected at first. The digital camera, personal computers, and even talking pictures were all at first dismissed as nonsense. In most cases, if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat you down and ignore your idea. The reason for this is most likely a psychological bias we all share against creative ideas. We say we want more creativity, but when we are presented with new ideas, we have a hard time recognizing their utility. … most organizations kill their most of their innovative ideas.”
— David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas
“Some [of the scientists I e-mailed] wrote back very mean stuff. In big red ink, like 'This is the worst idea ever.'”
— Jack Andraka, who at age 15 “made a breakthrough in [pancreatic] cancer detection that had eluded pharmaceutical companies and legions of PhDs.”
“The same uncertainty that triggers the need for companies to innovate may also be triggering executives to be rejecting the discoveries that could help them gain a competitive advantage. The ideas that could keep company alive are being killed too quickly.”
— David Burkus in Innovation Isn't an Idea Problem
“The love of new ideas is a myth: we prefer ideas only after others have tested them.”
— The Myths of Innovation, Chapter 4
We live in an inside-the-box world that often ridicules new ideas. When you penalize something, you get less of it.
There's a price to be paid for conformity, and we're paying it.
Bad ideas: “That'll never work”
Good ideas: “That could work”
Great ideas: “That'll never work”
That seemingly flip characterization conforms well with what I observed working with wealthy brainiacs who bought some of my ideas: the ones that excited them the most were OK/good ideas thousands of times less valuable (and exciting) than my best ones. In The myth of the brainstorming session, Mikael Cho wrote, “No matter how much we say we love creative ideas as a society, our brains are hardwired to fear novelty. Researchers at Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of North Carolina noted that we generally value practical ideas because they are proven and familiar compared to novel concepts which are riskier to endorse.” See The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas.
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.”
— General George Patton
“When everyone in a group always agrees, it can indicate that the group doesn't have very many ideas.”
— Excerpt from How Criticism Creates Innovative Teams
“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher (1844 - 1900)
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
… and thinking for yourself.
“Embrace your dissenters — and the conflict that comes along with that territory — because they can, and will, save you.”
— Dr. Marla Gottschalk
Being hidebound shouldn't be a badge of honor, yet many people pat themselves on the back for clinging to the past and old ways of doing things. Such people often smugly congratulate themselves for sniping at innovators, but in doing so, they evince their dearth of intelligence.
“Roadblock Prophets: The seer of all roadblocks has the uncanny ability to foresee a long list of potential barriers and problems that in all likelihood will not appear and sometimes even cannot appear. Granted, none of us want to make a mistake we could have avoided. But when someone always counters every idea with an endless list of reasons why it just won't work, then he or she needs to go – unreasonable doubt is the enemy of achievement.”
— Jeff Haden in People You Don't Need in Your Life
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
— Steve Jobs, Stanford University commencement address (2005)
Few people have the courage to follow their dreams and break new ground instead of plodding along the well-worn paths of past generations that have collectively taken the world, and us individually, to places we don't want to be. Like a freeway that bypasses the most interesting sights, by staying on what seems to be the fast track that takes us where we want to go, we miss opportunities to discover what's truly great. If you're on the freeway to nowhere and aspire to be an innovator, head for the nearest exit and follow a path that leads to places others never see. No great invention was ever conventional before its value was apparent to lesser minds, so have the fortitude to pursue offbeat ideas.
“Don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”
— Edwin Land, quoted in The Vindication of Edwin Land, (Forbes, May 4, 1987)
“The thing about smart people is that they seem like crazy people to dumb people.”
“Small minds cannot comprehend big spirits. To be great you have to be willing to be mocked, hated, and misunderstood. Stay strong.”
— Robert Tew
Polymath Nathan Myhrvold remarked that a friend of his said that “you can’t do anything new in the world without being misunderstood.” True. History abounds with examples of how brilliant innovators were scorned and ridiculed.
“When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”
— Jonathan Swift
“Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.”
— Oscar Wilde
“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”
— Euripides, Greek tragic dramatist (484 BC - 406 BC)
“Genius does what it must, talent does what it can.”
— Robert Bulwer-Lytton
For all the lip service we give to valuing new ideas and those who generate them, we're often allergic to the former and eager to lambaste the latter, preferring to reserve our adulation for cute dysfunctional celebrities and professional athletes skilled at playing children's games. The best way to harmonize with the world and especially those who control it is to meekly accept its myriad imperfections. Spineless people do that, while courageous people pave the way to a brighter future.
This is yet another example of how it takes big minds to see the value in big new ideas. Here's a relevant excerpt from her appearance on The Big Idea show:
Donny Deutsch: Are you willing to risk being laughed at?
Cynthia Good: People do laugh, don't they? And I think it's been said that if an idea is not absurd at first, it really has no chance. […]
Deutsch: So how do we give people the courage to say, “So what?” They're going to laugh at you. As a matter of fact, they're supposed to laugh at you.
Good: Well, then it goes back to the passion part. If it is something you're so passionate about and you believe in so intensely, then nothing is going to stop you. And those who say, “You can't” and “You won't,” you just have a chance to say, “Prove me wrong.” [I'll prove you wrong.]
Deutsch: And guess what? If a lot of people are saying “no” and a lot of people are laughing, it means it is new and different! Basically, if everybody is [saying] “Oh, sure, of course,” then there is nothing challenging—there's no twist; there is no new math there. So you could almost say these things that are barriers to people should almost be encouraging tools, so to speak.
Good: So if somebody laughs, you're on to something.
“Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.”
— Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels 1904–1996
Aaron Dennison was endlessly ridiculed and called “the lunatic of Boston” for predicting watches would be made by machinery, but he later did just that.
Although Thomas Edison was a renowned inventor before creating the first practical incandescent light bulb, people skeptical he would succeed branded him as a charlatan. Then after he proved them wrong, they ridiculed its practicality because everyone knew that existing generators (then called dynamos) were not sufficiently powerful to light many homes. Again he proved them wrong, and the Earth now glows at night.
An advertising slogan created for Apple Computer in 1997 brilliantly explained how “the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently” who are “crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
From GE's best commercial:
“Faster, ‘smarter’ computers and the accretion of more data don't automatically spark a fireworks of breakthroughs. … While better technology enables progress, it cannot dictate the pace of breakthroughs. True discoveries come erratically, unpredictably, with long dry spells followed by leaps of human insight and ingenuity.”
— Paul Allen in Idea Man
“Innovation comes from creative people who challenge authority and take risks—who exchange ideas and experiment at the fringe.”
— Vivek Wadhwa in Chinese Can Innovate—But China Can't
“Great change doesn't come with official endorsement.”
— Patti Digh
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
— George Bernard Shaw
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788 - 1860)
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
“Churning out employees who aren't risk takers and can rarely think for themselves – who constantly need to be told what to do when. Where will we find the risk-takers, the innovators – those who will future-proof our planet? … We need more risk takers. We need more creative minds not hindered by the 'system.' We need unfettered imagination. We need self-starters and misfits far more than we need order takers and MBAs.”
— Creel Price in Killing Our Kids With Kindness
“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”
— Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer (1828–1910)
Comment: This explains resistance to the germ theory of disease. President James Garfield might have survived if doctors treating him were less close-minded.
Excerpt: “Joseph Lister's antiseptic surgery was documented and accepted in Europe for nearly 30 years before it was accepted in the U.S. It took the assassination of President Garfield to force the AMA's acceptance of germs as the source of infection and usefulness of anti-septic surgery. The stethoscope, a seemingly obvious innovation, took over a decade before its use was widely accepted by the medical community.”
“Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis [attempted to persuade] his colleagues [in the 1840s] to introduce handwashing as a standard practice. Despite the data, his fellow doctors dismissed his findings. In fact, his colleagues and even his own wife thought he was losing his mind. They had him committed to a mental institution where he died shortly thereafter.”
— Mark Bonchek in Don't Sell a Product, Sell a Whole New Way of Thinking
“My guess is that well over 80% of the human race goes through life without ever having a single original thought. That is to say, they never think anything that has not been thought before, and by thousands.
A society made up of individuals who were all capable of original thought would probably be unendurable. The pressure of ideas would simply drive it frantic. The normal human society is very little troubled by them. Whenever a new one appears the average man displays signs of dismay and resentment. The only way he can take in such a new idea is by translating it crudely into terms of more familiar ideas. That translation is one of the chief functions of politicians, not to mention journalists. They devote themselves largely to debasing the ideas launched by their betters.”
— H. L. Mencken
“Physics tends to be dictated by fad and fashion. There are the gurus who dictate the direction in which new ideas grow. … When I tried to get graduate students interested, many of them would say, 'Well look, you may be right and you may be wrong, but if I work in supergravity [instead of string theory], I'm not going to find a job.'”
— Michael Duff, physicist
Comment: Science should follow the evidence and reasonable hypotheses that need to be proved right or wrong; the direction of science should not be dictated by strong personalities who, as history has shown, are often wrong.
“Bullies often envy their victims because they are fabulously unique people who can kick ass, and have no need or desire to follow the flock.”
— Paraphrasing Carrie commenting on Bullying: One Boy's Story
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
— Albert Einstein
“The secret tragedy of innovators is that their desire to improve the world is rarely matched by support from those they hope to help.”
— The Myths of Innovation, Chapter 4
“You know, I've got a plan that could rescue Apple. I can't say any more than that it's the perfect product and the perfect strategy for Apple. But nobody there will listen to me.”
— Steve Jobs, 1995
“It's astounding the number of people who will tell you that you and your ideas are crazy. I have been thrown out of more than a thousand offices while building my six companies.”
— Serial entrepreneur Bo Peabody quoted in The Myths of Innovation, Chapter 4
[People say they aren't creative] “as an excuse for not being able to come up with innovative ideas on their own, but behind it lies a fear of failure—of being judged by others.”
— IDEO CEO Tim Brown in The Secret to Innovation: Think Like a Kid
Comment: This is what most people don't understand about creativity: to get the occasional gold nugget, you can't be so fearful of producing some duds that you're more focused on how others might adversely judge your flops. Edison had one that almost bankrupted him. Remember it? Most people have never even heard of it. Einstein's sex life would make Bill Clinton blush, but he's still Einstein.
We've become a hyper-critical culture eager to pounce on others to assail imperfections we all have and errors we all make. Yet inventors are ultimately judged by their successes, not their failures.
“Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.”
— Rupert Murdoch
“Incremental improvement is guaranteed to be obsolete over time. Especially in technology, where you know there's going to be non-incremental change. … You should work on something new that you think is really amazing. The trick is coming up with those products. … It's not easy coming up with moon shots.”
— Google CEO Larry Page in Google's Larry Page on Why Moon Shots Matter
“More gold has been mined from the thoughts of men than has been taken from the Earth.”
— Napoleon Hill (?)
Comment: The most valuable property is intellectual property, not real estate.
“When you are finished changing, you're finished.”
— Ben Franklin (?)
“[Being told] 'no' has become a great source of inspiration.”
— David Copperfield
The latter quote capsulizes the risk of resisting change. The world is continually changing. People, nations, and corporations that change and adapt at a slower pace are left in the dust by others who change more rapidly. History proves this beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet people have an innate resistance to change and often take such comfort in clinging to the past they pat themselves on the back for ridiculing innovators with the best new ideas—the ones that really shake things up, and hence aren't easy to digest. But what's more difficult to stomach is the price we collectively pay for this resistance to change. It sentences men and women to shorter lives filled with more work, drudgery, and pain but less money, free time, and joy.
Hence the irony: those who ridicule great new ideas are the ones who deserve ridicule—not the innovators.
“If you don't take risks, you will always work for someone who does.”
“If it wasn't Lockheed Martin [revealing a few details of its compact fusion reactor], you'd say it was probably a bunch of crazies.”
— Steven Cowley
Comment: Skepticism of newcomers with big new ideas may keep others from evaluating whether they have merit.
“Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”
— Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology, 1872
Comment: Pasteur had a strong spine that enabled him to endure years of mockery as countless people—from supposed experts to common folks—laughed at him, thinking his ideas were crazy. Pasteur's critics branded him as a charlatan and a fool for believing that germs too small to be seen with the naked eye could possibly injure and kill—but they obviously do, as even children now know.
Ridicule is a price paid by innovators far ahead of others. Remember what Oscar Wilde said? “Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.”
In the end, they were dead wrong and Pasteur was recognized as one of the foremost scientists in history. Pasteur will be remembered forever while Pachet is all but forgotten.
- Bloomberg Businessweek: Corporations Aren't Recruiting Enough Weirdos
Excerpt: “Weirdness can look like a problem but, in fact, it’s quite often the solution.”
- Brilliant article by Joel Trammell: Support oddballs in your company culture
Excerpt: “I believe that the better the [company] culture, the easier it is to fit in people of all stripes. Even oddballs. And talented people are often oddballs. Let me explain that. The better the culture means the more open it is, the less political it is. When politics are at a minimum, people are motivated by performance, period.”
- Einstein was one of the greatest thinkers ever and justifiably Time magazine's Person of the Century, yet early in his career he was so frustrated by the difficulty of getting a science job that he considered becoming an insurance salesman and eventually worked as a patent clerk. Considering how long it took for others to see Einstein's ability and what I said earlier in this article, a clear pattern emerges: even very smart people have difficulty recognizing geniuses with truly innovative ideas.
- Commenting on Why Are Genius and Madness Connected?, one person said, “Historically most inventors have been considered "kooks" & "not right in the head" by "normal" people—right up to the minute they get their invention to work; then they are usually called genius.”
- “Conformity,” “mediocrity” win biomedical funding, say critics
Excerpt: “The leading U.S. funders of biomedical research [are accused of] ignoring truly innovative thinkers and encouraging conformity if not mediocrity." … Exceptional creative ideas may have a hard time. [NIH has a] penchant for the safe and incremental. … "[The Howard Hughes Medical Institute] has a different model," Capecchi said. "They encourage us to take risks"—that is, to try studies that might fail but might change the world. … Unlike NIH, HHMI "embraces risk-taking," he said. "We ask, 'Where would your field be if you weren't there?' "”
- Many people have ideas, but few of them translate their ideas into reality. Being an inventor is different than being a dreamer. Inventors make stuff.
- Why is innovation so hard to accept?
- Dr. Marla Gottschalk: Where Did All of Those Great Ideas Go?
- James Dyson (the famous inventor) “publicly laments the low status that Britain accords the technically minded.”
Comment: The same is true in the USA, where (for example) questionably talented celebrities often receive endless press coverage while most superstar scientists and inventors live in obscurity.
- Book: The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies
- More incorrect predictions
- The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking
- Book: The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well
- David McCullough Jr. advised people to “Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself.” How many people do that?
- To generate great ideas, you must think for yourself, not think as you are commanded. Here's what sports reporter Erin Andrews said, “I'd sit on the couch with Dad [when she was a child] and he'd say, 'Alright, this is Larry Bird, he's God, and you're gonna cherish him. This is Brett Favre; he does no wrong in your book. […] These are the Boston Red Socks and you will cheer for them.'”
- Pop Music All Sounds the Same Nowadays
Comment: The creativity that gave us many great songs a few decades ago—where is it?
- Hyenas That Think Outside the Box Solve Problems Faster based on Innovative problem solving by wild spotted hyenas
Comment: Thinking outside the box is advantageous not just for humans, but animals, too. Yet many people have difficulty thinking outside the box. What does that tell you?
- 10 Great Ideas that Were Originally Rejected, And How to Prevent It
- Need an Expert? Try the Crowd
- Top 10 Inventions that Changed the World
- Mark Cuban unloads on American patent system, says bad patents are ‘crushing small businesses’
- CNBC: Health Care Disruptors Revealed
- CNBC Disruptors
- Model Aims to Help Companies Make Products We Actually Want
- 8 brilliant scientific screw-ups that led to crucial inventions
- Eccentric's Corner: Father of Invention: James Jorasch is patented proof that creativity isn't only for artistic geniuses
- CEOs Say Investing in Innovation Is Not Paying Off
Comment: Because incremental improvements often don't amount to a hill of beans. Since 1976, the United States issued 6473 toothbrush-related patents, but a 1975 toothbrush could clean your teeth just as well.
Commenting on that article, Doug Masnaghetti wrote, “The MBA has been a complete disaster for American business and our "educators" need to do some serious soul-searching about offering this sham of a degree.” I agree. It is typically MBAs, not engineers or inventors, who decide what consumers can buy—and in these days, that usually means junk that often disappoints consumers and quickly ends up in a dump. I recently spent several days looking for a garden tractor to replace the Sears tractors I owned that failed prematurely (primarily due to cheap engines that rapidly wear out and begin smoking); I ended up buying a 40-year-old Case tractor that runs better than any modern Sears tractor. What's the chance that a Sears tractor made today will last four decades? About zero.
Also commenting on that article, Invisibilesurfer said, “Highly paid MBAs failed to see the fiscal crisis before it arrived at their doorstep.” Interesting comment. I predicted the 2007 – 2008 collapse in the late 1980s.
- Is America Out of Ideas?
- Accenture analysis from Why Low-Risk Innovation Is Costly: “A cautious approach to innovation … is a potentially perilous strategy. Enterprises that restrict themselves to incremental innovation … risk unknowingly entering a vicious cycle in which they lag ever farther behind.” Will CEOs heed those wise words?
- Book: Think Like a Freak
- Scott Case: Get Fired
Excerpt: “Do you work at a large enterprise – a place with more than 500 employees? Then your best hope of helping the company — and your career — is to try to get fired. Seriously.”
- Why Pioneers Have Arrows In Their Backs
- What a 19th Century ‘Googler’ Can Tell Us About Today's Obsessive CEOs Excerpt: “As long as these obsessive innovators can find an outlet for their obsessiveness — say, a thriving company where they are given a loose leash by the board — they tend to do well, though underlings may suffer on account of their bluntness.”
- What if Steve Jobs was happy and balanced?
- Why companies need inventors, not just their ideas
- How to Get Support for Your Big Ideas
- James Caan, CEO of Hamilton Bradshaw: Unleash the Spirit of Innovation Within Your Team
- Foot In Mouth: 17 Quotes From Big Corporate Execs Who Laughed Off Disruption When It Hit
- Excellent advice from Johnny B. Truant: “Defy convention where it's appropriate. Only a few people dare to step outside.”
- 10 Must Reads for Inventors
- Abilene paradox
- We Need Creativity To Survive. So Why Are We So Suspicious Of It?
- The Multi-Million Dollar Product That Got Away From 'Shark Tank'
- The One Thing Successful People Never Do: Give up. Many very successful people have failed, often several times, but they never gave up.
“I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I've done that sort of thing in my life, but I've always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don't know why. Because they're harder. They're much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you've completely failed.”
— Steve Jobs
“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.”
— Steve Jobs
“But in the end, for something this complicated, it's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”
— Steve Jobs
“My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”
— Steve Jobs
Comment: I discovered a way to make it seem to pass more slowly.
Nathan Myhrvold is often, but unfairly, besmirched as a patent troll. That inaccurate smear arises from people who evidently think ideas arise from thin air, and that there's no drawback to starving inventors of the capital they need to focus on inventions. In this video, Dr. Myhrvold cogently explains the importance of funding inventors: