The Power of Starting Something Stupid: How to Crush Fear, Make Dreams Happen, and Live without Regretby Richie Norton
In The Power of Starting Something Stupid, the author flips the script on what makes something a great idea. Norton offers a game-changing method for organizing your life and business with new inspiration, effectiveness, and mastery. He proves the most successful things in the world started out as ideas people thought were foolish and shows readers how to harness that particular brand of genius, coining the phrase the “New Smart.” Born out of a family tragedy and rooted in extensive research, Norton unlocked the secrets to living a creative, successful, and fulfilling life. This book shares the five steps of New Smart to overcome the fear of failure and feel more alive, satisfied, and successful.
“Live to start your stupid ideas, and start to live a life without regret-a life filled with meaning, freedom, happiness, fun, authenticity, and influence.”
Your life’s circumstances are largely out of your control. If you wait until the circumstances are right, you will be stuck waiting forever.
There are unique aspects of life that you are naturally passionate about, and there are moments of concise intuition showing a detailed path ahead full of opportunity. In such cases, you need to take action rather than discarding these moments as “just another stupid idea.” You have to start moving towards achieving your goals today; otherwise, you’ll end up full of regrets.
Take this experience from the author, whose infant son and brother-in-law, both named Gavin, died suddenly within two years of one another. The author had a visceral experience of how short life can be and how little time we have to waste on waiting to live fully.
Out of this tragedy, he created the concept of Gavin’s Law to honor their legacy: live to start, start to live. “Live to start” means focusing each day on the opportunities life gives to take action on “stupid” ideas. “Start to live,” on the other hand, means living as if life has an unknown expiration date and that today is the best day to begin something "stupid."
Actions to take
Stupid as the New Smart
“Embracing the New Smart requires employing ample forethought and preparation and then committing to move forward against the current of discouraging and even condemning opinions of others.”
Clay Levitt, an English teacher in Japan, noticed one day a new trend of Japanese teenagers wearing used American jeans. When he discovered that pre-worn Levi's were selling for $100 in Japan and up to $10,000 for rare editions, he decided to sell used jeans. While this may sound crazy to some, it turns out to be a genius idea after he made $70,000 in just one weekend!
If people think the changes you want to make or dreams you want to realize are stupid, welcome to the club of the world’s leading innovators, change agents, thought leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, executives, and more. These people understand that making significant contributions to the world requires acting on ideas initially deemed “foolish.”
However, you must not confuse these ideas with those “unhealthy stupid” or those lacking intelligence and common sense, like sticking a metal fork in a light socket. Valuable ideas usually belong in the “Stupid as the New Smart” category.
“Stupid as the New Smart” is a golden nagging inspiration or lofty dream that uplifts your life and everyone who comes in contact with it. Or, it just lights up the world in an amusing way, like Fantasy Football, a million-dollar company created by three sports journalists out of boredom. They are just one of those considered the “New Smart.”
The New Smart is very creative, innovative, and counterintuitive. They also know how to get out of their comfort zone. It leans into fear, pushes through less-than-ideal circumstances, turns down the volume on critics, and is all about trusting one’s inner wisdom.
It is based on having the ability to discern if there is a smart idea in something that’s been discarded as having no value. Angry Birds, a video game that flings birds at pigs, for example, is now making over $100 million a year. Sara Blakey, the creator of Spanx, became the world's youngest self-made female billionaire on the idea of form-fitting, footless pantyhose, which she was told no one would buy.
The telephone, the automobile, the radio, the spaceship, and the satellite are just a few of the inventions critics call ridiculous. Walt Disney was told he lacked imagination and had no good ideas. Elvis Presley was told to go back to truck driving because he had no talent. These are all examples of people who applied the New Smart and succeeded in their endeavors.
Actions to take
Where You Don’t Want To Be: Lost In Waiting
“I knew that I would end up living a life of regret if I got too lost in the busyness of life—lost in waiting.”
The most challenging part of any project is gathering the energy and courage to start. Many people operate on a deferred life plan: they believe they have to do what needs to be done now so they can do what they want later on. Here, the aim is to make as much money as fast as possible, then quit and do what you really want. The problem with this is that it leads you to an “activity trap,” where life becomes only about overcoming the immediate obstacles of each day, and “real life” gets pushed to something you will get to another day.
Aside from this trap, you may also get caught up in retirement confusion, where you confuse the need to save money with the need to postpone pursuing a dream. To avoid this from happening, you need to begin with the end in mind. This means imagining first how you want to live your life after retirement and saving money toward it without sacrificing your present “life.” Have it built into your life plan to pursue your dreams every year of your life while also saving money for the future.
Actions to take
The Bezos Test: Will I Regret It When I’m In My 80s?
“If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think, “What will I think at that time?” it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion.”
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, had a great job on Wall Street. When he discussed his idea to sell books on the internet in the mid-90s, his boss said it sounded like a great idea for someone who didn’t already have a great job. If Bezos had waited until retirement, it would have been the wrong time, and his idea would have failed. Someone else would have done it. His inspiration was meant for the moment in history he was living in, and he went for it.
Most people are afraid of choosing the wrong idea and investing valuable time and money into something that only depletes them in the end. They've heard horror stories about people who lost everything because they bet everything on the wrong idea. Or, they try to do all their ideas at once and burn through resources too quickly. By taking action on too many ideas at once, none of the projects get the necessary focus to get completed.
So, rather than focusing on the fear of choosing the wrong idea, focus on the qualities of the right idea for you instead—and focus only on one. If you can project all your fears, you can also project things going better than you expected.
If you’re worried about the future, you may apply the mind-traveling technique. Here, you’ll create the criteria for your success and imagine the steps you need to take to reach it.
Actions to take
The T.E.M. Gap
“Every successful person has faced one, two, or all three of these obstacles (lack of time, education, and/or money) at one time or another on their journey toward success.”
There are three false beliefs that often stop people from pursuing an idea: lack of time, lack of money, and lack of education. The gap between having the idea and giving it the green light is called the "T.E.M. Gap."
The truth about time is that each day we tend to have less and less of it. So the notion that we will have more time later is false. Parkinson's Law says that work grows to fill the time that is available to finish it. Once you start, you automatically have more time to pursue your dream than if you start later.
If you’re hesitant to take action because you think you don’t have enough experience and knowledge yet, here’s the truth: You only learn by doing. When you act upon your idea, you are taking authentic action toward building a range of abilities. You become eager to learn, problem-solve, and do what’s needed to get the job done, greatly increasing your value in the marketplace.
Finally, if it’s the lack of money that’s stopping you from pursuing your idea, remember that, like you, many of the most innovative, successful people also came from financial hardship. Learning how to move forward on their “stupid” idea with a lack of money built important skills like resourcefulness, networking, strategic partnership, and frugality. All of these are essential for building sustainable success.
Every person who ever created anything of value faced a lack of time, education, and money somewhere along the journey. But what made them successful was their ability to become unstoppable regardless of these challenges.
Actions to take
Stupid Projects: One Thing Leads to Another
“You were given gifts that were meant to be shown to the world.”
One way to overcome the fear of failure is to start small. Find ways to start your idea by doing simple tasks. Take tiny steps each day that require a minimal financial investment.
Explore ways to execute your idea for free. The New Smart is about setting yourself up for success by taking care of your survival needs while exploring something that deeply inspires you. Imagine that you are walking each day along the path of your dream.
To kickstart your journey, start by taking the big picture of your goal and breaking it down into smaller, achievable projects you can complete regularly. Starting it as a small project ensures you are on the right path, tests your commitment, and starts to build the muscles of fortitude. This way, you can complete important projects without feeling overwhelmed.
Actions to take
Crush Your Fears
“To accelerate success, we must get as close to our dreams as possible, as soon as possible.”
People with high aspirations are going to experience a high amount of fear. Fear management is the remedy that breaks anyone with big dreams out of their shell. It is founded on having a clear purpose, as this overpowers fear. When you have a clearly defined reason why you want to move ahead, you’ll be more empowered and unstoppable to do it.
Aside from having a clear purpose, you should also learn to celebrate small wins when working on your dreams. Racking up lots of little successes prevents you from falling into fear-based activities like avoidance and procrastination.
In moments where you experience failure, the best thing to do is to reevaluate your reasons for moving ahead and strengthen your purpose. Through small wins and small losses, you only get stronger in your conviction.
Actions to take
End Pride: The Humble Power Alternative
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” (Brene Brown)—all components of the New Smart.”
Pride can stop anyone from reaching their goals. Some signs that may indicate you’re governed by pride are when you fear looking stupid, feel like you deserve easy success, blame others for their lack of success, and have trouble with a "scarcity mindset.”
To counteract this type of pride, you have to embrace vulnerability as a good thing, as it grants the courage to change. It embraces continual learning. Embody the attitude of someone who is upbeat, optimistic, hard-working, and humble. This is highly attractive and will cause people to want you to succeed. You will gain friends, mentors, and partners along the way. Roll up your sleeves, express gratitude, and cheerfully get to work.
Another harmful aspect of pride is blaming, which leads to justifying inaction. Blame allows circumstances to keep people stuck rather than doing what they can do to move forward. If you experienced tragedy, you triumphed over it and need to acknowledge that. As you continue to share the good things that come from your strength and wisdom, you can experience even bigger triumphs.
To overcome this pride, you need to view the world with an abundance mindset. By doing so, you’ll instantly become more collaborative, open to contribution, and accessible for success.
Actions to take
Overcoming Procrastination: Breaking the “Tomorrow” Habit
“Dreams get done when they are due.”
It is a myth that procrastinators are lazy. In fact, even a workaholic can be a major procrastinator, too. They do this by mulling over every inconsequential detail to avoid taking action on more meaningful activities.
Aside from avoiding activities, procrastinators are also addicted to immediacy. They find it difficult to commit to tasks that need time to measure success. They want immediate gratification instead of working toward a long-term goal.
The irony of procrastination is that it’s rarely enjoyable. When you put things off, you just give yourself more time to worry, feel regret, and be anxious about the wasted opportunity. So, if you really want to have more time for enjoyment, satisfaction, and fulfillment, you must put in the effort to eliminate procrastination. Living in the present moment, prioritizing important tasks, and delegating the less important ones will help you with this.
When you’re working on an idea you’re passionate about, you’ll not only have to deal with procrastination. Most of the time, you'll have to get over the discomfort it causes, especially if you have to go beyond your comfort zone. The great news is that the discomfort fades the more you work on it. And the smaller you make the tests, the less overwhelming discomfort gets triggered.
Actions to take
The Five Actions of the New Smart: S.T.A.R.T - Serve, Thank, Ask, Receive, Trust
“When we are fueled by the guiding principles of START, we are prepared to develop meaningful relationships, seize opportunity when it arrives, accelerate success, create trust, give and receive respect, learn valuable things, and contribute to others (and the world) in meaningful ways.”
Serve, Thank, Ask, Receive, and Trust, aka START, is the key to creating a deep, wide, and lasting impact on the world through your idea. It’s also a great reminder of the power of starting. The momentum of the beginning allows one action to lead to another. The magic of the next step appearing can only happen when you begin. So, begin simply with whatever is right in front of you.
Here’s how you can apply the formula START when working on your idea:
Service: Your idea’s power to improve people’s lives can greatly motivate you to overcome fear. That dedication to service informs the next steps to take. Start by looking at how your idea can be useful to people. You may also consider starting doing something you love and value enough that you’re willing to do it for free.
Thank You: Being sincerely thankful triggers feelings of gratification in the giver, inspiring them to want to contribute more. So, use your New Smart idea as a way to practice sincere gratitude at every opportunity.
Ask: A simple, 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. How you ask matters when it comes to a “stupid” idea. The best way to do this is by practicing mission matching—a technique of asking in a way that creates a mutual benefit to the giver. Here, your aim is to ask, receive, and contribute as well.
Receive: The key to receiving is releasing any discomfort, embarrassment, or pride about how the help arrives. It may fall into your hands in an uncomfortable, awkward way, and when it does, find a way to grab on and be grateful for the contribution. It also may come in the form of an opportunity that requires you to step out of your comfort zone so you can take full advantage of it.
Trust: Build from trust instead of towards it. Trusting that the bright light of inspiration within is valuable and worthy of investment is vital to your success. So, trust yourself and your idea. Be your word; do what you say you will do.
START helps you strategically connect, prove yourself, and get fully in the game where all the action is. You may consider these principles as the first sources of knowledge on how to proceed in any situation.
Actions to take
Leverage Existing Resources
“Leverage is the process of maximizing the resources that are available to us in order to increase effectiveness.”
When we leverage, we gather and organize existing resources to achieve success. A major pitfall to your project's success is the belief that you need more resources to start. When that same energy is instead channeled into ingenuity, creativity, and problem-solving, you find ways to leverage what you already have to get started.
Leveraging your existing resources is like using a car jack on a flat tire. It takes some energy and increases success in dramatic ways. The power of leverage is everywhere: Ben Franklin leveraged electricity, Google is leveraging other people’s information, and even manufacturers use their equipment to make other people’s ideas!
When you combine the power of starting something stupid with the unstoppable force of leverage, what you get is magic. Leverage is also vital for how it allows you to manage time. The limited resource of time passes by regardless of how much energy we expend getting something done.
Leveraging allows everything you do to happen faster. An abundance of time can also be leveraged. This leverage allows you to research, figure out resourceful ways to achieve your goal, make meaningful connections, and learn from experts. You can leverage a lack of time by creating collaborations, creating with efficient speed, and using your network.
Finding a mentor is one of the best uses for lack of time leverage. Learning from someone who's already been down the road you are passionate about and understanding what they wish they had done differently accelerates your growth.
Similar to time, you can also leverage a lack of money with ingenuity. Finding a way forward with the exact resources available can take the ideas to heights beyond your imagination. You can use the lack of money to perform due diligence in preparation for starting efficiently when you already have the funds. Or, you can partner with someone who does have the resources. A good investor is much more likely to partner with someone who pours real sweat equity into a big dream.
Remember that when working on a dream, you have to start with whatever is within your reach. Your smallest efforts can spark great change.