You Don’t Need Permission to Start

Mike Sobol Innovation Mindset 0 Comments

Want to do something big? Really big? That makes you different, perhaps even crazy. And definitely a little scary. How often do different/crazy/scary people ask for permission to do whatever big plans they have in mind?

They don’t ask for permission. Because they don’t need it.

Call it validation, approval, encouragement or whatever– if you need that from others to start investigating your new innovation, you’re looking for the wrong kind of proof.

We are all biased to dismiss ideas that challenge what we consider to be our own conventional wisdom. It’s a very useful habit when it comes to trying to get things right on a daily basis: rely on what you know, apply a framework you already use, don’t make a lot of mistakes.

This habit is not as useful when you’re trying to innovate where there is a lot you don’t know, a framework may be missing and you’re likely to make lots of mistakes. Most new ideas look like bad ideas at first, partly because we don’t know the facts of the matter yet, but also because uncertainty scares us.

Creativity Is Scary, Even When We Ask for It

According to two studies conducted at Cornell University:

People often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal. To explain this paradox, we propose that people can hold a bias against creativity that is not necessarily overt, and which is activated when people experience a motivation to reduce uncertainty.

In two studies, we measure and manipulate uncertainty using different methods… The results of both studies demonstrated a negative bias toward creativity… when participants experienced uncertainty. Furthermore, the bias against creativity interfered with participants’ ability to recognize a creative idea. These results reveal a concealed barrier that creative actors may face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.

That’s amazing. We can rationally choose to brainstorm, then irrationally reject the most creative ideas that result. Even when creativity is the desired goal we naturally pull each other back into the safe zone where certainty rules and weirdness loses. You’ve probably felt that when you try to pitch your startup idea, or ask for others’ opinions. Their reactions don’t mean you’re wrong– only that they are uncomfortable with your idea.

Of course, you could be wrong about your idea and be just as irrationally enamored with it as others are put-off. That’s a different issue. Your job as an entrepreneur is to ensure that doesn’t happen, but that’s not for others to decide as armchair pundits of your project.

New Innovations are Built on Secrets

All new innovations are built on truths that already exist but which were previously secret, we just never managed to put them together in that specific way before. From simple ideas like Airbnb, to scientifically complex ones like 3-D printed organs, no one changed the nature of supply and demand or the laws of chemistry, biology and physics. What they did was assemble facts in novel ways.

Is it possible to create a market out of spare couches and bedrooms? Yes, that’s evident now. But most early investors didn’t think so. Is it possible to print transplantable bones and organs? Yes. It’s happening. Some crazy people had to imagine it before most anyone else even could.

At some point, what is now obviously true to everyone, was only true to very few people. And before that, no one at all. Look at it this way: If everyone you talk to already thinks you have a good idea, then maybe it isn’t different enough to warrant exploration. In that case, the permission you seek ends up being a false positive. Another good reason to stop looking for it.

Seek Out Facts, Not Opinions

Operating under the cover of a socially acceptable “good idea,” by asking anyone and everyone what they think, shouldn’t govern your choices as an entrepreneur. You need facts. Uncover all the facts you can handle about the problem you’re trying to solve, your prospective users, the market, the “physics” of your product, the economics of your business… and you’ll be in a much better position to decide if and how to move forward than if you simply ask for input. So go get yourself some facts. You have my permission. 😉

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