There Are No Crazy Ideas

Five years ago, those who followed cryptocurrencies were considered crazy, in many respects. “Bitcoin doesn’t have enough oversight, and will eventually fail” was a sentiment echoed by many people at the time. But today, although cryptocurrencies have not cracked widespread adoption yet, those who took a risk on cryptocurrencies five years ago are seen as smart. We see them as smart because they got involved with a new idea early, and society rewards them by considering that person to be an expert. After all, if they risked their reputation, or capital, on something like a cryptocurrency back when everyone thought crypto was unstable and would fail, they deserve to be conferred some form of celebrity. What happened to the image of the crazy person who was betting on something that was going to fail? We forgot about it, because those people knew what they were doing and their risks paid off.

Crazy Ideas Today Are Tomorrow’s Greatest ideas

There are no crazy ideas. We all have our own ways of looking at the world, which means that everyone will receive new ideas differently. If I were to tell someone outside of Silicon Valley — or, by a larger extent, outside of the general culture of ambitious thinking — that you could invest in a person and earn a return from that, some people may find that crazy. But it is happening, today. Many people condemn this idea because it is seen as unethical. But many people also praise this idea as the future of increasing access to opportunity. It’s interesting to see that two different people can see things so differently. "What kind of person would buy books on the internet? I can just go to the local store!” was on the minds of many of the first people who discovered Amazon. Ambitious ideas are often the ones that work, and we should never discard a concept on account of it sounding crazy.

We All Have Different Perspectives

There will always be someone who thinks an idea is crazy. But in most cases, no idea is crazy. Let’s say I am pursuing a crypto startup. Dozens of my friends could say that my idea is crazy and that I should not pursue it. But I am actually the person pursuing it. I am the one who is thinking about this idea all of the time, digesting information, and synthesizing thoughts. I have an experience with crypto that other people do not have. Indeed, my idea may not work out. But nobody else will have the same insight into the problem as I do. When Mark Zuckerberg initially started Facebook, there would have been many people who questioned its value proposition. But Zuckerberg saw something in Facebook that other people did not see. He saw an opportunity to leverage the internet to help people interact better with others. And it paid off. When we are thinking about whether an idea is crazy, we need to consider the fact that we don’t actually have any idea what other people are thinking.

If I have invested all of my personal savings into building a startup, that must mean that I believe in what I am doing — otherwise, I would quit. Therefore, although my idea may seem crazy, I at least have some form of self-belief that things will work out in the end. The people who condemn the idea as crazy will not have the same perspective as me, and will therefore not be able to evaluate the idea appropriately. In sum, we should never condemn an idea as crazy until we are sure that we know what the other person is thinking. Because that other person may have just identified the next big social trend, and nobody else has seen it yet.

Indeed, some ideas don’t work out in the end. And there are so many examples in history of people who have made the wrong decision and who seem crazy for making that decision. Many would say that the people who bought stocks in the weeks before the dot-com bubble burst were crazy, because the market was obviously in a bubble. Really smart investors bought tech stocks at the time though. Most people probably didn’t think that the market was appropriately valued, but the past performance of the market indicated that tech stocks would continue to go up for at least a few weeks.

There was years of precedent to indicate that tech stocks were a good bet, and that the market would correct itself naturally over time. Investors could rationalize their purchasing tech stocks because all of the evidence pointed to their being able to earn the investor a return, even if they only held the stock for a few days. Was it crazy that they accounted for all of the evidence and invested based on that evidence? Of course not. But society considers some of those investors crazy for doing so. This is why it is so important to consider the fact that we can’t judge ideas and whether they are crazy because we will never know what people are thinking. People can rationalize almost anything. Some ideas will be good and will pay off greatly. Others will be bad and will fail. However, if people can rationalize their choices, they will continue to pursue the idea, no matter how crazy it is.

We Naturally Try to Rationalize Our Decisions

The second reason why there are no crazy ideas is because everyone justifies their own actions for various reasons, even if their decision was not prudent. Where are all of the best business decisions made? Are they made in the board room with all of the financials and company documents laid out? Or are they made in other places? We all make decisions that don’t make sense and our mind develops an internal narrative as to why we have made that decision. If I declare I am going to start a business in crypto, my mind will automatically start to rationalize that decision. Maybe the market doesn’t need another business. But my mind will do everything it can to justify my original decision. If we condemn big and ambitious ideas as crazy, we must also recognize the fact that small decisions we make could also be classified in the same way, because we use the same thought patterns to make decisions.

There is a difference between crazy and ambitious. Crazy means that something sounds completely different from what we are used to, and ambitious means something that could be attainable, but for many people is out of reach. Crazy ideas are often ambitious, and ambitious ideas are often crazy, but they are two different things — although their differences are indeed subtle. When we are thinking about crazy ideas, we need to ask ourselves whether that idea is crazy, or whether it is just ambitious. Sidewalk Labs’ purchase of a plot of land in Toronto in order to build a new city is ambitious. But it is not crazy. For years we have been thinking about where urban development and technology intersect. So it isn’t crazy to assume that a tech-powered city could work. Bitcoin being worth $100,000 in a year is a crazy idea, because the idea is completely different than what most people think — almost nobody would stake real money on such a bet. But if you take a risk on Bitcoin being worth that much and it pays off, the rewards will be plentiful.

So many great ideas are lost because people call them crazy. I would argue that we lose so much value in society because people are discouraged from pulling the trigger on something new when someone says that what they are doing will never work out. The most successful people in the world have been willing to bet on crazy ideas, with the understanding that being seen as crazy today may allow you to be seen as an innovator tomorrow. Progress takes time, and thus it takes time for people to see the true potential in great ideas. But if we wait long enough, many crazy ideas will be seen as the world’s greatest ideas. It’s all a matter of perspective; there are no crazy ideas.

Blog, EssayJames GallagherComment