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On Innovating & Creating: Leaning Into Stupid Ideas

On Innovating & Creating: Leaning Into Stupid IdeasMany ideas that were once thought of as stupid actually turned out to be huge successes. In fact, most of these inventions we can’t live without today.

Take the telephone, for instance. Originally, in 1876, Western Union rejected it, explaining in an internal memo: “The device is inherently of no value to us.”

The automobile was met with similar reservations. The president of Michigan Savings Bank told Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company, because: “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.”

Satellites didn’t seem that useful either. T. Craven, the FCC commissioner, had this to say in 1961: “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.”

These are just some of the powerful examples you’ll find in The Power of Starting Something Stupid: How to Crush Fear, Make Dreams Happen, and Live Without Regret by Richie Norton with Natalie Norton. After conducting hundreds of interviews and researching a slew of cases, Norton discovered an interesting trend: “Successful people, throughout history and today, don’t avoid stupid, they lean into it…in a smart way.”

He calls this “stupid as the new smart.” He defines it as “that nagging hunch, that golden idea, that lofty dream, that if it weren’t so seemingly ‘stupid,’ might actually have the chance to become something truly significant – in your own life, and quite possibly, in the world at large.”

Norton distinguishes this concept from “unhealthy stupid,” which he says is “inherently faulty, meaning the stupidity is a permanently ingrained and inseparable element.”

Do you think you might have a stupid idea?

If so, Norton suggests starting with START. In his book he outlines these five actions, which spell out the word “start.” They are: Serve, Thank, Ask, Receive and Trust.

He says that these aren’t chronological principles. Instead, they’re principles to embrace “as a way of life.” And they work for any project and anyone can use them.

Successful people search for opportunities to serve others. Norton features a quote from Steve Hargadon, founder of the website, about his motto “Go, Give, Get”:

Go: Start doing something you love and value enough that you’d do it for free in your spare time. Give: Find a way to really help people, to do something that will make a difference in their lives. Get: Notice that the opportunity for benefits will come your way — either financially, or just in the satisfaction of helping make the world a better place.

Norton also believes that gratitude is key. “In order to build genuine relationships, experience greater fulfillment, and set yourself up for significant and meaningful success, always express sincere gratitude, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the contribution may be.”

Asking others is another powerful path to success. According to Norton, “A simple but effective way to become who you want to become or go where you want to go is to ask for directions from those who have already been there.”

When asking others for help, Norton suggests doing your homework on the person or organization (find out their needs and goals); thinking about how you can use your own strengths to contribute to their mission; and figuring out how working together can serve you both.

He says that this is often more meaningful than hiring someone for their services, because it can lead to a deeper relationship (“a more significant emotional exchange”) and possible collaborations in the future.

Norton also stresses the importance of “receiving others.” And he makes a distinction between receiving and accepting. “Accepting a gift is a transaction,” he writes, but “receiving a gift means you run with it and score.”

In other words, to truly receive a gift, we need to use it to achieve our goals. Plus, when we receive a gift, we’re not just receiving a product or a service; we’re receiving the giver, too (and they’re receiving us).

The last action focuses on trust. “Trust is simply about choosing to associate with people who are trustworthy and being a trustworthy person yourself,” Norton writes. First, it’s important to trust yourself, because if you don’t trust yourself, how do you expect anyone else to?

Norton suggests taking a personal inventory and considering questions such as: “Do you keep commitments to yourself and others? Do you put in an honest day’s work, for an honest day’s pay?”

He also suggests being the first to trust others. Doing so motivates people to meet your positive expectations, while distrust motivates them to put up their defenses.

“The principles of START are most effective when they are embraced as continuous principles of human connection,” according to Norton. And they prepare us for success, valuable lessons and contributing in meaningful ways.

The Power of Starting Something Stupid is an inspiring, encouraging and motivating book filled with stirring stories and valuable insights.

On Innovating & Creating: Leaning Into Stupid Ideas

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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). On Innovating & Creating: Leaning Into Stupid Ideas. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 Jun 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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