The Power of Starting Something Stupid (Hardcover)
How to Crush Fear, Make Dreams Happen, and Live without Regret(edit)
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"Richie Norton has written a book about courage. The courage to do work that matters and to do it with your heart and your soul. Go make something happen."— Seth Godin, author of The Icarus Deception
"Perfect book for these uncertain times." —Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media
What if the smartest people in the world understand something that the rest of us don't? (They do.) What if they know that in order to achieve success, they will sometimes have to do things that others may initially perceive as stupid? The fact of the matter is that the smartest people in the world don't run from stupid, they lean into it (in a smart way).
In The Power of Starting Something Stupid, Richie Norton redefines stupid as we know it, demonstrating that life-changing ideas are often tragically mislabeled stupid. What if the key to success, creativity, and fulfillment in your life lies in the potential of those stupid ideas? This deeply inspiring book will teach you:
- How to crush fear, make dreams happen, and live without regret.
- How to overcome obstacles such as lack of time, lack of education, or lack of money.
- The 5 actions of the New Smart to achieve authentic success.
No more excuses. Learn how to start something stupid — the smartest thing you can do. Drawing on years of research, including hundreds of face-to-face interviews and some of the world's greatest success stories past and present, Richie shows you how stupid is the New Smart — the common denominator for success, creativity, and innovation in business and life.
- Size: 6 x 8
- Pages: 320
- Published: 03/2012
- Book on CD: Unabridged, 5 discs
About the Author
Richie Norton is the author of the #1 Amazon download, Résumés Are Dead and What to Do About It as well as the popular blog, Start Stuff. Pacific Business News recognized Richie as one of the top Forty Under 40 “best and brightest young businessmen” in Hawaii. He is an entrepreneur, a sought-after speaker, and an international business development consultant. Richie is happily married to Natalie, and they have four sons.
The Anatomy of Stupid as
the New Smart: Used Blue Jeans
and the Creative Puzzle
“In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”
—RALPH WALDO EMERSON
It was the mid-1980s. Clay Leavitt, a Canadian teaching English in Japan at the time, noticed something interesting that quickly had his undivided attention. Almost overnight, the teens he was teaching were showing up in class wearing faded Levis and other denim clothing. Clay recalls, “All of a sudden, youth worldwide were watching MTV and other programs and seeing the same fashion trends, especially the street-youth fashion of the United States. Overnight, or so it appeared, jean pants became an ‘Americana’ fashion craze.”
The wheels in Clay’s head started to turn. “My wife and I got curious, and we asked some of the kids where they shopped. When we visited the ‘retro’ shops that they told us about, we were amazed that they were selling Levis and other brands of jeans and jackets for incredibly high prices.” The same jeans and jackets that were readily available in US thrift stores (where they sold for only a dollar or two), were being sold in Japan for the equivalent of a hundred US dollars or more! There was even a collector’s market where people would buy older pairs of used jeans and jackets for thousands of dollars! “I still own a jacket that at the time could have sold for over ten thousand dollars,” Clay relates.
Upon moving from Japan to the United States, Clay had already determined that he would start his own company selling used jeans in Japan. He began to further research the market and found that there was demand for used jeans, not just in Japan, but in many parts of the world. In fact, Clay soon found that there were even buyers who would buy them “sight unseen for silly prices.” Things looked promising, but there were bills to pay, and his wife was expecting their first son. So Clay got in touch with an old friend and college roommate, Dal Zemp, and hit him up for a job.
One day at work, Clay mentioned his crazy idea to Dal and another associate, John Pennington. He asked them if they were interested in helping him collect jeans in order to set up a side business selling specialty clothing overseas.
“Their reaction was similar to my family’s,” said Clay. “‘That sounds pretty crazy. Why would anyone want to buy someone else’s used jeans, especially for the prices that you’re saying they will pay?’” Clay explained as best he could, but both Dal and John were very skeptical. After all, these were some serious claims.
“The next morning, John came into the office with several pair of Levi 501s and wanted to know how much they were worth. I looked at them,” Clay said, “and told him they were worth about eighty to a hundred dollars to the English buyer, maybe more if we could find someone in Japan that would buy them.”
“‘Wow!’ John said, ‘I found these in the garbage Dumpster behind my house.’ We never decided if that was just the world’s biggest coincidence, or whether it was God’s hand in our lives, but that was the beginning of a great partnership that lasted for the next ten years.”
“Those were exciting days: weekend drives to Boise, Phoenix, Denver, and anywhere else we could find thrift stores that would sell to us, and then back to Salt Lake with our cars stuffed so full of jeans that we were dragging bottom—all in time to be to work on Monday morning.”
In the beginning, their main markets were Germany, Japan, France, England, and Italy, but they quickly expanded into some unlikely countries, such as Korea, Thailand, and others. They were doing trade shows in Europe and tripping all over Asia and Europe, knocking on the doors of stores, small and large. Before they knew it, they were advertising on television, and even the national press picked up on their story. Soon they were inundated with calls and orders from buyers all over the world. In 1989, Clay and Dal moved their families to Europe in order to take advantage of higher pricing by being closer to the market. Clay recalls:
Dal moved his family to Germany and rented a warehouse/store in a little town outside of Munich where he began to develop a network of smaller buyers, usually store owners. One day, he decided to try a local warehouse sale event. He advertised in the newspaper, but mostly with low-cost fliers handed out at the local schools to let students know they could buy direct from the warehouse. The next day there was a lineup of kids wanting to buy jeans. I think we sold $70,000 worth of jeans that weekend.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were many difficult decisions to be made, and there were difficult hurdles to be overcome. “There were detractors,” recalls Clay. “Lots of people asked us if what we were doing was even legal. My mother asked me if I was sure that I wanted to throw away six years of business school, and my life, to sell used jeans. I’m sure she thought it was a phase and that it would pass.” And, of course, people thought they were crazy, but of that Clay says, “Sure it sounded stupid. But we knew what we knew, and the money was real.”The Paradox of Stupid as the New Smart
Let me whisper a secret directly into your ear: If someone thinks that your ideas, or the changes you want to make, or the dreams bubbling up inside of you, are stupid, welcome to the Club. You’re in the company of the world’s leading innovators, change agents, thought leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, philanthropists, executives, employees, educators, youth, moms, dads, families, philosophers, mentors, and more.
We all want to be smart. We’re scared of failure. Scared of falling behind. Scared of being foolish. Scared of looking stupid. No one wants any of that.
Or do we?
Maybe the smartest people in the world know something we don’t. Maybe they know that in order to be smart, in order to make significant contributions to the world, and in order to spur significant change in their own lives, they sometimes have to act on ideas that others might initially perceive as stupid.
The traditional idea of stupidity is as old as time. Pick up any dictionary, and it will offer some derivative of the definition, “lacking intelligence and common sense.” This type of stupidity is what I call unhealthy stupid. It is dangerous, and clearly not the kind of stupid you want to embrace. Unhealthy stupid indicates that a thing or idea is inherently faulty, meaning that the stupidity is a permanently ingrained and inseparable element.
Stupid as the New Smart, on the other hand, is healthy and should be sought after and embraced. Stupid as the New Smart is that pressing thought that just won’t go away. 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.
The New Smart, is not inherently stupid. Rather, these ideas are simply labeled as such by yourself or others due to doubt, fear, confusion, or lack of understanding.
In short, stupid as the New Smart is a paradox.
For the sake of clarity, let’s compare the phenomenon of stupid as the New Smart to what anthropologist Grant McCracken defines as “culturematic.” After observing cultural innovations in contemporary culture, McCracken said, “a culturematic is a little machine for making culture. It is designed to do three things: test the world, discover meaning, and unleash value.” In an interview with Harvard Business Review, McCracken further explained:
The paradox we’re running up against here, and the point of proceeding culturematically is precisely that some of the things [that] seemed least productive, or promising of value, are actually the things that are going to be most rewarding for us.
[For example,] Fantasy Football, which was created by three sports journalists in a Manhattan hotel room . . . is now an industry worth $3.5 billion. They created this idea [and] thought so little of it that they didn’t take out trademarks, or copyrights, and patents. As a result of which, they did not participate in this creation of value. But there it was.
And you can just imagine. It’s like Twitter in the early days. When people said, oh, this is stupid. Nobody’s going to want to use this. In the case of Fantasy Football, people said, well, why would you want to have an alternative sports reality when you have the National Football League? Surely that’s sufficient. Surely that’s plenty.
Here are some ways the New Smart shows up in our lives:
The New Smart is highly creative.
The New Smart is counterintuitive.
The New Smart is innovative.
The New Smart is beyond our comfort zone.
The New Smart is making change.
The New Smart is unconventional.
The New Smart is leaning into fear.
The New Smart is pushing through less-than-ideal circumstances.
The New Smart is turning down the volume on critics.
The New Smart is trusting the voice inside your own head.
Paradoxically, stupid as the New Smart is the power behind the world’s wave makers and mountain movers.
It’s important to note that the New Smart isn’t being flippant and making decisions without forethought or preparation. Those types of behaviors would be classified as unhealthy stupid. The New Smart is having the ability to discern when the label of “stupid” is masking a smart idea. Embracing the New Smart requires employing ample forethought and preparation, and then committing to move forward against the current of the discouraging and even condemning opinions of others.
The Stupid Filter: Unlimited Opportunity
When you begin to look at the world through the stupid filter, you’ll see successful, stupid ideas everywhere you look. Doggles (yes, fashion sunglasses for dogs) pulls in an estimated $3 million a year; approximately half a million Chia Pets are sold each holiday season; and Angry Birds creator, Rovio, confirmed a profit of $106 million in 2011. (Yes, $106 million from a game where players do nothing more than fling birds at pigs.) Seeing “stupid” as opportunity can be very profitable.
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, saw opportunity in starting something others thought was stupid—form-fitting, footless pantyhose. She became the youngest self-made female billionaire, turning $5,000 of personal savings into $1 billion with her crazy idea to revolutionize hosiery. She said, “[I] approached several lawyers who thought my idea was so crazy that they later admitted thinking I had been sent by Candid Camera.” When she approached hosiery manufacturers “they all thought the idea was stupid or didn’t make sense.” However, Blakely leaned into the New Smart—just because someone else thought the idea was “stupid” and “wouldn’t sell” didn’t mean it was true.
Blakely’s persistence paid off. She says, “I received a call from a mill owner who said he ‘decided to help make my crazy idea.’ When asked why he had the change of heart, he said, ‘I have two daughters.’ Turns out they didn’t think the idea was crazy at all.” Just like that, the mill owner had a paradigm shift: what once was stupid became the New Smart.
It’s not just in niche spaces, nor is it merely among the blatantly stupid, that we notice a trend of stupid success. It’s everywhere. The New Smart is found from the cars that you drive to the celebrities you endorse to the computers you can’t live without. It’s in your favorite fashion trends, the type of music you listen to, and the innovative ideas in the books that you read. The New Smart can be found in the small, everyday choices you make as well as your biggest, most potentially life-altering decisions.
Just a Stupid Idea?
New Smart ideas and individuals have literally changed the world. Consider this quick handful of examples:
The telephone. Western Union originally rejected the telephone, saying in an internal memo in 1876, “The device is inherently of no value to us.”
The automobile. In 1903, the president of Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company. “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.”
The radio. In response to David’s Sarnoff’s urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s, his associates said, “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
Man on the Moon. In 1957, Lee De Forest, the man who pioneered radio and invented the vacuum tube, said, “A man-made moon voyage will never occur regardless of all future scientific advances.”
Satellites. In 1961, T. Craven, the FCC commissioner said, “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.”
Thomas Edison. Said Edison himself, “I don’t know now what it was, but I was always at the foot of the class. I used to feel that the teachers never sympathized with me and that my father thought that I was stupid, and at last I almost decided that I must really be a dunce. . . . One day I overheard the teacher tell the inspector that I was ‘addled’ and it would not be worthwhile keeping me in school any longer.”
Walt Disney. Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
Elvis Presley. Elvis, the king of rock and roll, was fired from the Grand Ole Opry after only one performance. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
The list could go on for days.
These innovations and individuals spurred huge changes in the economy, the way we live, and the way we view the world. The New Smart has served as a catalyst that opened entirely new industries, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. People who lean into the New Smart courageously put on the metaphorical dunce cap and change the world.
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
—Peter Drucker, legendary management
consultant and business author
When you look at life through the stupid filter, you quickly find that quite often the stuff that sticks is the selfsame stuff that someone, somewhere, once wrote off as “stupid.” And if some of the world’s greatest success stories weren’t willing to stop at stupid, neither should you.
While the process of differentiation between unhealthy stupid and the New Smart requires significant forethought, assessment, and research, another critical component to this process of differentiation, far too often overlooked, is an authentic trust in your inherent sense of direction.
This inherent sense of direction is what I call your innate sensibility, and it’s about as easy to explain as nailing a wave upon the shore. Bestselling author and former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, once described trust by saying, “I could give you a dictionary definition, but you know it when you feel it.” Drawing from this definition of trust, your innate sensibility is something you’ll know when you feel it.
By its very nature, the New Smart is highly counterintuitive and will almost always go against the grain of conventional thinking, on a small or grand scale, but you can’t afford to use that as an excuse to keep yourself stuck. Turn down the volume on detractors, and tune in to your own innate sensibility.
The Creative Puzzle:
Innate Sensibility versus Enthusiasm
Imagine, if you will, that you’re putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You dump out all the pieces, and then you begin the painstaking task of trying to make them all fit. Things start out fairly easily as you find the border pieces, and without much difficulty, you start to achieve some measure of structure. You begin to feel somewhat oriented. Then you start in on the body of the puzzle. Some areas come together effortlessly, others make you want to bang your head against the wall, but you stick with it, because you know that right in front of you is every single piece you need to complete this puzzle!
Actively pursuing stupid as the New Smart is the process of putting together what I call the creative puzzle—it’s your responsibility to put the pieces together to make your idea a reality. The initial energy or enthusiasm surrounding an idea is clearly important and is akin to getting the edges placed in your jigsaw puzzle. But when detractors’ voices (real or perceived, well-meaning or antagonistic) ring loud in your ears, poking holes in what, only moments before, felt solid and sure, it’s your innate sensibility that will serve as the anchor to sustain you. This true sense of direction-filled conviction is the internal certainty that all the pieces are before you, and you just have to figure out how to make them all fit.
Innate sensibility fuels one’s ability to cut directly through external complexity to a place of deeply seated conviction, wisdom, and direction. Adversely, enthusiasm denotes eagerness and excitement, but offers only a superficial sense of surety. Enthusiasm is important and can accelerate the growth of any idea exponentially; however, it is by nature shallow and emotionally based. All the enthusiasm in the world won’t be enough to save you if you’ve run right down the rabbit hole called unhealthy stupid.
Ultimately, your idea must be anchored by a deep feeling of conviction in order for you to have the longevity (and the blood and guts) required to follow it through to completion.
Begin Anywhere, Begin Today
The lifeblood of any idea is provided completely by the willingness to start. Remember Gavin’s Law: Live to start. Start to live. Individuals and organizations that live to start dreams, really do start living and breathing those dreams. It is distinctly significant that the title of this book is The Power of Starting Something Stupid rather than simply “The Power of Stupid” (an option I briefly entertained). The most challenging part of nearly any project is the initial exertion of energy (and courage) required to begin. Once you’ve overcome the often-debilitating power of resistance, the momentum to keep going leads from one thing to another until you reach your goals . . . or something even better.
The “Miracle of the Used Jeans” offers a perfect illustration of the very real power of starting. Here are the parting words from my interview with Clay:
While part of any success is being in the right place at the right time, there is much of our success that we control by our decisions and actions. How many people, for example, saw the youth buying jeans for hundreds of dollars in Japan, were amazed, talked about it, but didn’t do anything about it? We went home and took action. Again and again, we made bold decisions without any hesitation.
When I look back, I’m amazed at some of the things that we “just did.” We quit our jobs, moved our families around the world, traveled to some amazing places, organized sales all over Europe without even being able to speak the languages. But the important thing is that we did them. When we were faced with decisions, we made the best decision possible based on the information that we had available to us and then moved forward.
How many ideas, opportunities, businesses, and lives are squandered because we mistakenly suppress those so-called “stupid ideas.” We all want to make the best decisions in life possible. Don’t allow life to pass you by because you are afraid of stupid.
Opportunities will come and go, but if you do nothing about them, so will you.
by Stephanie - reviewed on March 19, 2013
When I think of all the famous people who invented something great, I am blinded by their success. It is not until author Richie Norton starts pointing out in his book that most great ideas started out as what others labeled as "stupid." Wait a second! I began to really understand that brilliance is often mislabeled! Think about these ideas that were labeled stupid: the telephone, the car, the radio, putting a man on the moon, etc. In The Power of Starting Something Stupid, Norton is going to walk you through how to get over the worry of your stupid idea and make your dreams a reality. Whether you want to start your own business or just live a life with a sense of accomplishment, this book can help you find success using the following steps: 1. Crush Fear 2. End Pride 3. Overcome Procrastination 4. Be Authentic 5. Serve, Thank, Ask, Receive, Trust 6. Leverage Existing Resources Each step is carefully broken down helping the reader understand each point, what they can do about it, and a challenge to change your thought process. Filled with real-life examples from CEOs who had "stupid" ideas that became reality, inspirational quotes and logical graphics this book is a good read for anyone who wants to live their life intentionally and without regret.
Richie is the Real Deal
by Scott - reviewed on March 06, 2013
This is my third time through this book. It's very motivating and encouraging. I met Richie in college where he was the Student Body President. He is the real deal. He is funny, down to earth, humble, fun, creative, and super smart. Seriously. I've known him for 10 years now and he is still the same super-positive guy I've ever known. I've eaten at his kitchen table, played with his kids, and been amazed at his wife's photography skills. So this book is just the embodiment of Richie - his voice shines through and through. You should really look up some of his youtube videos to kind of see the kind of guy he is. He's a little goofy and cheesy, but that is all part of the package. Richie has helped so many other people succeed in their businesses and he is very selfless. He is truly not in it for the money. It's about helping people and that is rare, rare thing to find in this world. I have never been so excited about my own life goals and ideas as I am at the moment and a HUGE part of that started with reading this book. You won't regret it.
It is now cool to get stupid
by Zackary - reviewed on March 07, 2013
Fantastic book. Sound principles that can be applied to any field. Richie writes from a business background; I work as a physician but find the principles universal. Great motivator and help.
by Shauna - reviewed on March 15, 2013
I was immediately intrigued with the title~ The Power of Starting Something Stupid. Power and Stupid in the same title...I had to read this book! Then the subtitle caught my attention~ How to crush fear, make dreams happen and live without regret. Now I REALLY had to read this book! We all know people who started something that everyone said just couldn't be done...and they succeeded...think the telephone, the car, radio, Walt Disney, Apple, Twitter, Amazon, etc. But do we realize that ALL of us have that power within us? Richie Norton shares his knowledge and gives step-by-step examples on how to implement that knowledge into our own lives. My favorite phrase in the book is: "Live to Start ~ Start to Live." So go ahead...start something stupid...whatever it takes :)
My Stupid Idea is all I can think about
by Customer - reviewed on March 06, 2013
A friend of mine recommended this book and I'm in the middle of reading it right now. I've always had an idea for a retirement project (still a number of years away), but since this book was introduced to me, I've started thinking of new ways to make it successful rather than putting it off. I've taken some small steps and it's now constantly on my mind. Appreciate that this concept of starting something stupid has fostered some motivation I didn't have before.
This book is truly amazing!
by Customer - reviewed on March 08, 2013
This is truly an amazing book! It is very well written and is so inspirational. Mr. Norton's writing style is easy to read and it just pulled me in. He made me feel like my "stupid" little ideas could change the world. He gives examples of his own, and he gives examples of others that have taken ideas and turned them into reality. I especially enjoyed the chapters on authenticity and service. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has a dream or an idea....pretty much everyone. You may read my full review on my book blog: www.the-readathon.blogspot.com. Monica
The Power of Starting Something Stupid
by Mindy - reviewed on March 27, 2013
For a while now, I've been wanting to write a book. I had an "idea" for a book, and have been to writing conferences. I've written a few details about characters, and had a general idea of where I wanted the story to go. But, that is it. I have found with all the reading and reviewing books that I do, I enjoy doing that more then writing. I don't discount the idea of writing one day, because I don't think I have given writing a fair shake, but after reading The Power of Starting Something Stupid, I have realized what my stupid idea is. I want to be an editor. I have know that deep down for awhile, but it's fun to finally put it out there. At times, while I was reading this book, many things the author expressed, applied to me. The most important chapter for my stupid idea was Chapter 10: Overcome Procrastination: Breaking the "Tomorrow" Habit. I think I've used every excuse in the book, literally. :) I learned that procrastination doesn't necessarily mean the things I do in my life aren't important, I need to make room for editing. Schooling, experience, and basically knowing where to start are my first steps. I am excited to pursue this new "stupid" idea in my life. Walt Disney said, "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." page 115 5 out of 5 stars. This book is very inspiring. A really great kick in the pants, especially for me. One of my favorite parts was the beginning chapter about Gavin, his son. I really enjoyed all the stories throughout the book. Many successful people sharing their stupid idea. I also liked how the author also used examples that are opposite of each other. For that to make more sense, see chapter 11. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether you have a stupid idea or not. This book is a great motivator in all aspects of life.
The kick-start that I needed
by Morgan - reviewed on December 07, 2012
I've toyed around with the idea of starting my own business for a few years, and I have read dozens of motivational/business books, but it wasn't until I got my hands on this book that I actually took the leap-- this was just the kick-start that I needed! Not only is this book easy to digest, but it's filled with real-life examples and successes that can motivate. Perfect for those with the desire to change anything in their life--it will give you the motivation to get up and go! The only regret I have is not reading this book sooner!
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