Suppose a quarter century ago, a junior congressman sponsored a bill requiring airlines to install high-security doors in the cockpits of passenger aircraft. The plan cost millions of dollars and raised travel prices, causing headaches for companies and regulators. As a result of the overzealous congressman’s overreach, he lost his next reelection bid by a landslide.
It will never occur to us that this congressman was the only reason the Twin Towers stood, 3,000 people didn’t die, why the United States never invaded Afghanistan, tougher security checks for air travelers, why they were free from the U.S., and why 9/11 remained nothing more than an arbitrary date and an emergency response number at the end of the summer.
This scenario is outlined in Nassim Taleb’s 2007 bestseller “The Black Swan” as an example of how once unimaginable ideas become a cultural mindset. Innovation can be fueled by a willingness to entertain seemingly ridiculous possibilities, and perhaps even prevent catastrophic collateral damage.
The word is probably not in your dictionary, but it speaks volumes about how contemporary culture is opposed to ideas that might serve us all.
It Will Never Work
A medical assistant at the Vienna maternity clinic in 1844, Ignaz Semmelweis was a Hungarian physician. Semmelweis began investigating the possible causes of postpartum infection, which claimed the lives of up to 30% of mothers delivering. This was despite the objections of his supervising doctor.
Careful observation revealed that student doctors treated women at a much higher rate than midwives did. Since germ theory was still unknown, Semmelweis had no theory of causation, but the correlation was impossible to ignore. When doctors returned from dissection rooms, he ordered them to wash their hands in chlorinated lime before entering the delivery ward. Infection rates dropped by more than 90% almost immediately.
Although his ideas were accepted in Hungary, medical experts across Europe rejected his theories and labeled him an eccentric. After his colleagues confined him to an insane asylum, he was beaten, sickened, and died two weeks later of the disease he had dedicated his life to combating.
Cancellation culture, it seems, is hardly a new phenomenon
Rent Movie Videos by Mail! That was Mark Randolph’s brilliant idea 25 years ago! However, the concept didn’t work. It was expensive to send VCR cassettes by mail. In 1998, DVD technology was just around the corner and Netflix was launched, which proved to be immensely successful.
The best-selling author and podcaster has moved on from Netflix to other projects.
Nobody would ever want to send a message with 140 characters, would they? You might have heard about Twitter. No private company could ever engineer and build a spacecraft, right? Don’t tell the visionaries at SpaceX. Customers love to browse the lots in bookstores; they’re never going to order books online, will they? Welcome, Amazon!
It is more important to discuss wacky ideas seriously than to tell stories to convince naysayers. Many of those views are irrelevant, but negotiating can take a dozen different directions, and you only need one to get paid. According to Mark Randolph, people are missing an important point when they say nothing is a bad idea. Equally important, and perhaps even more true, there are no good ideas. Every inspiration must be hashed out, tweaked, and refined.
The surprising habit of original thinkers Adam Grant explains how self-doubt differs from thought doubt in his 2016 TED talk. Aside from Mozart whose first drafts were flawless compositions with no need for revision – the ideas never fully materialized. There is no way to know whether they will prove worthy or not at first, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon them.
In giving up on ideas because they aren’t perfect, we are giving up on ourselves, and we never know whether those ideas might actually become something extraordinary.
Contrary to this, a mindset that rejects the familiar and pursues the unknown produces a kind of thinking that questions conventions, challenges assumptions, and allows half-baked ideas to grow for longer periods of time. Gets ready for It’s okay to doubt whether an idea is good, as long as the doubt opens the door by giving it a fair chance.
Without that willingness, we essentially foster a culture in which it is not safe to think outside the box, leading to a culture where we are afraid to think at all. When this happens, we exchange stories about epic heroes for Semimelvisian tragedies. The business can be an inspiration to the world if we encourage bold creativity that inspires innovation.