Today I want to reach out to the crazy people. Thank you for believing that the impossible can be accomplished, for seeing things others don’t, and for embarking on journeys that sane people would never even consider. For thinking that you are special.
In the corporate world, we label the crazy with names like innovator, visionary, thinker, pioneer, or marketing person1 – at least if they are “positively crazy”. We need those seeds of randomness to evolve, the gravitational forces between what we can accomplish and that which is currently impossible, and we love those unpredictable moves that cause disruption in business and technology. Coming from the software industry, I think of startups that changed the world – Microsoft if you’re old enough (or young enough since they seem to be reinventing themselves), Borland if you’re like me (too old?), Google, Facebook, Apple, Spotify, and many more. Would you agree that without being a little crazy, they couldn’t have broken away from the pack to do the seemingly impossible?
In a conversation earlier today, a good friend mentioned the importance of craziness for all of us. I agree. We are programmed to repeat yesterdays over and over by neuroscience (such as habits), by convention (such as not saying hello to people you don’t know), by society (such as having a school system where everyone must learn exactly the same things using exactly the same pedagogical models for the first ten years or so), by processes (such as making identical burgers2), by well-meaning friends (such as telling you not to go for that new opportunity because “you know what you have but not what you’ll get”), by experience (such as leaders explaining that your idea won’t work because they’ve already tried it), and so forth. The list can be made much longer. We are drawn into repetitive patterns and conformity by a thousand forces. What can possibly stand against such a powerful army of grayness, commanding you to stay in line?
As it turns out, the army faces an equally fearsome enemy – itself. You see, we are caught in a great paradox3 that propels humanity forward. We desperately want to conform and to belong, so we try hard to force others to do the same (which in turn strengthens our own conformity and sense of belonging). We also desperately want to be different and to be unique, so we try hard to stand out from the crowd (which means we have to relinquish conformity and group belonging). Perhaps this paradox is the catalyst for craziness, and perhaps craziness is the catalyst for innovation, ambition, and drive.
I won’t bore you4 with philosophical, scientific, or religious proof points for the Great Paradox. But how about some real-world personal examples? That might serve as empirical evidence, at least for something…
- When I accepted my job at a small start-up company some twenty years ago, I had a competing offer on the table from a high-profile company with extreme media coverage, and they offered more money. Sure, my friends told me I was crazy for not taking that job. More importantly though, I thought that the CTO for the start-up was crazy calling me up at 10 pm on a Friday night just to convince me that I should come work for them. And as I think you know by now, I have a soft spot for crazy people… Anyway, the high-profile company crashed and burned when the dot.com bubble burst like a giant zit on the face of the stock exchange. And I had the great fortune to be part of a work journey that I certainly don’t regret.
- When my wife and I moved in together a few weeks into our relationship, and got engaged after two months, people told us we were crazy. I fully agree, and now we’ve been married for seventeen years. We are annoyingly happy (and I am crazy enough to believe that things will be even better as we grow old together).
- When I recently founded Cortex City, I told myself it was crazy to believe that people would travel there and join me in building a great community that cares about corporate citizens and CII. Well, the jury’s still out, but so far we have new citizens joining every day, and my hopes are high that this initiative can one day harbor a secret idea5 that must live forever.
These are just a few examples from a lifelong list of crazy things. What stands out when I think about them is that although a lot of the craziness has led me to failure, it has always kept me moving forward. And should someone ask me about the most important things I’ve done so far in my life – I have to say that almost all of them are the result of doing something others considered crazy. My only regret is that I haven’t done more crazy things, which I’ll work on improving going forward.
Now, don’t just take my word for it. Think about things you’ve done that really had major positive impacts on your life. How many of them were the result of staying in that line of grayness6, and how many were, well, a little more colorful. Perhaps even crazy? And then think about your company’s history – I’ll argue that you’ll find those pivotal moments that led to success linked to a crazy idea that turned into something great.
Thank you for reading,
Bjorn “The Mayor” Karlsson
1. How else can you describe those who position what we do ahead of the curve (meaning: it doesn’t yet exist), and then expect reality to try and catch up?
2. Identical to other burgers, but bearing little resemblance with the mouth-watering version presented by marketing. See previous footnote.
3. Or conspiracy – dealer’s choice.
4. Usually when people offer not to bore you with something, it means they’ve run out of material or arguments.
5. An idea crazy enough to not be disclosed. Also, that’s what secret means.
6. Yes, there is another article in progress that will discuss some of the fantastic results stemming from that gray colossus.