If you reject anyone’s imaginative ideas solely based on other people’s formulas to create products and services, you probably are trapped in their dogma. This is one of the most dangerous things to do, and I admit I’ve done it, when you want to innovate. For instance, I have become trapped in Peter Thiel’s and Y Combinator’s dogma multiple times on what it takes to create a successful company, but their criteria and formulas are not the end-all, be-all. While it is great to see the amazing ways in which other people think, making their thoughts the absolute truth and rejecting anything which doesn’t confine in those thoughts is a bad way to think for yourself.
In a recent conversation with a potential co-founder who was seeking me out, I had shared a imaginative vision for the future of human burial being in outer space and he immediately told me I was wrong in my thinking using tech jargon. I had come with an idea, never presented it as fact, and was immediately told by someone who was reaching out to me that nobody would want their bodies buried in outer space without him having done any experiments or research to prove this.
I was thinking into the future of the predicted mega-densely populated cities by 2050 and there only being a finite amount of burial space in graveyards and cremation taking too much energy. While my idea was probably not feasible with my current resources and had a high chance of failing, I do not think anyone can give factual numbers on how many people would be interested in a idea without testing it. They followed up with a formula for thinking of startup ideas which goes against the creative nature in which many of the most successful companies were founded. Ignoring rules!
Formulas, though great in certain fields like math, can not be the greatest way to come up with new innovative ideas. If that was such, there would be many more successful businesses sticking around after the first five years. The truth is that innovation and creating is very hard, I would know as someone who has been trying to create a successful product or service using formulas from books and successful entrepreneurs for the past three years.
After reading and solidifying other people’s formula’s to be true, I would see startups like WeWork and Snapchat become unicorns ignoring many of these public formulas and conventions. While many startup programs tell people not to try and brainstorm ideas and to go out and talk to people, the story goes that Snapchat original founders in Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown were sitting in a dorm brainstorming when they came up with the idea of ephemeral photo messaging. This brainstorming session and subsequent execution, lead to a billion dollar unicorn company.
Early articles on Snapchat speak on their success by ignoring design conventions and rules set by others to design and market their product. To this day, Snapchat is the only mobile app startup that I know of who marketed their app with a stand/booth in a mall. Early interviews of Evan Spiegel in 2013 revealed to me that he thought for himself and not used other people’s thoughts. In fact his early mentor, Scott Cook of Intuit, supposedly thought Snapchat would fail, but still invested in it. He did not talk to customers, he kept snapchat a secret until release and moved stealthily to acquire users. Snapchat supposedly blew up when a relative of Evan Spiegel shared it with her friends at school. Rather than chasing venture capital, the venture capital came running when Jeremy Liew at Lightspeed Ventures asked a younger relative which apps the kids at their school used, which turned out to be Snapchat.
In a world where people are frequently told ideas don’t matter and to share them with everyone, Snapchat moved stealthily to enter the market and declined to share their idea. While I thought their suspicion of Facebook copying their ideas in early 2015 articles was pretty farfetched, this came true with stories being implemented on all Facebook owned products starting in 2017. Instead of taking others opinions as facts, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy thought for themselves to achieve their success.
Many entrepreneur books and programs tell people not to start companies in competitive industries, but Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey saw great success in both their early Green Desk and the latter WeWork project in a field with many competitors. There were plenty of co-working spaces and even a dominant one which had went public in the year 2000 in multinational juggernaut Regus. Regardless of how it ended, WeWork became massive and still has offices around today, just different management.
While many people have credentials and success under their belt which give their formulas verisimilitude, they are not the only ways of thinking. There are many outliers who achieve success in guerrilla ways which nobody has ever thought of. Once you become so ingrained in other peoples rules, it becomes hard to produce your own original thoughts which could lead to the next great innovation. Think for yourself. Don’t tell me I am wrong in using my own imagination under guidelines and rules set forth by other people’s imagination.
While many people are amazed by the success of tech entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin, many more don’t know the origin stories of many of their products and services. Elon Musk’s original plan for creating Space X was to capture a ‘money-shot’ of a greenhouse on the planet of Mars to entice people to focus on space again, as the interest and funding waned over the years following the last moon landing. How many people would have wanted to spend billions of dollars to get a greenhouse on the surface of Mars just to snap a photo? I don’t know and neither do you. All that matters is that Elon Musk’s imagination lead to him studying intensely and finding a opportunity in developing cheaper reusable rockets as a better way to rebuild the public’s interest in space exploration.
While his initial idea may not have been the best, without it he may have never stumbled upon Space X. Big imagination lead him to also figure out how he could source parts on the exchange market for his own rockets for way cheaper than the Russian rocket company which previously had a monopoly. Fast forward to today and Space X is probably the most innovative company on the planet and this all started from wanting to get a photo of green plants growing on a red Mars background.
After reading “Bold” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, I learned also of the inception of Google’s most widely successful product which generates a large portion of their revenue in Google AdSense from Larry Page. Google, in year 2000 with less than 200 people, was initially trying to create an early version of Artificial Intelligence and their hard work and creative problem solving lead them to stumble upon an algorithm for Google AdSense. In fact, Google is now a advertising juggernaut and must make their company seem small by diversifying their industries to avoid being broken up by regulators. A big ambitious idea lead to creating a super successful solution to advertise online. Larry page followed up by saying that 100% of Google’s innovation happened in this way.
People thought Larry Page and Sergey Brin were crazy when they brought YouTube for 1.4 billion dollars, but their bet has not just made them billions in revenue, but content creators have made some millions as well.
The key point I want to make is that imagination often triumphs rules and formulas set by others, even if they have successfully created things. Its like trying to catch lighting in a bottle by saying that the rules that work for others will work for everyone else as long as they follow them. In actuality, creating successful new things is hard and what worked for others probably won’t work for you. In contradiction to the point of my article, its like Peter Thiel stated that the next successful entrepreneur will not make a operation system like Bill Gates or social network like Mark Zuckerberg, but will invent something new in a completely new area. The best ways to do something are the new and untried ways as Peter Thiel once said.
After multiple people use a formula or set of tricks, the public catches on and no longer falls for it. The next super successful ways to create products and services will be completely new and guerrilla. The founders will think for themselves to create and most likely will stumble upon a interesting new idea by simply experimenting. They probably won’t be looking at other peoples formulas which could restrict them for finding that next great innovation.
While some things may always be true, such as the need to register a business to operate legally, this doesn’t apply for what you end up creating. The world is waiting for fresh new ideas, stories, art, and just about everything else and you won’t produce these by following rules and laws of others to the T.
Get paper, a pencil, turn off your computer, and throw the books to the side and think for yourself. Spend an hour thinking from your own mind and not pulling the rules and thoughts of other, and you can imagine something you want to bring to the world. As a perpetrator of becoming restricted to other peoples rules, I can say that it does not work. There are a multitude of variables and factors which determine how you think. Many of the people who I tried to think like share mostly nothing in common with me, how I grew up, and the mental models I use to survive. This is great! The more diverse experiences, the more diverse thoughts and ideas can be produced and brought to the world.
So if you find yourself trapped in other people’s ways of thinking after reading and studying them, make it your goal to break free and produce your own thoughts. There are no right or wrong ways of thinking. The only time you have a right or wrong choice is when you are operating in systems set forth by other people’s minds.
“Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.”
- Leonardo da Vinci
“One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil.”
- Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Break free and think for yourself. Have fun. Follow your curiosity, use your imagination and stop using the jargon of others to convey your thoughts. Produce original thoughts. Dream big. Let your wildest imagination lead you to more pragmatic problems like how Space X formed from a wild idea. Be less constricted. Think freely so you can add to the amazing innovative ideas which make up our lives from music to art, culture, inventions, foods, and companies.
Always remember that the world wants new things and you can’t give it that by trying to think and act like someone else they have already experienced.
Think for yourself.