Do You Make This Classic Success-Thwarting Mistake?

I sent a memo to IWT last week reporting on a clever and very effective scheme that one of our competitors is using to make a lot of money. IWT’s response was to explain to me “what’s wrong with what he’s doing” and “why our way is better.” There may or may not be something wrong with what our competitor is doing — but if creative minds are good for anything, they are good for discovering how to make wrong things (that work) work right. Instead of seeing the strength and potential in this activated and profitable idea, IWT used his intellectual energy to dismiss it. Why?

Sometimes, we dismiss ideas because we are overwhelmed with work and don’t want to contemplate taking on something new. This is not a good response. It’s better to consider a new idea with an open mind. If it turns out to be better than the worst idea of the many ideas you are working on, you can jettison that worst idea and replace it with the newer, better one. Sometimes, we dismiss ideas because we don’t trust the source. (This may have been the case in the situation I just told you about.)

Good ideas can come from bad people. More importantly, most questionable business practices have at their center a perfectly good — and usually very powerful — marketing insight at work. Rather than dismiss the scheme out of hand, break it down into its component parts and try to see if you can save or reinvent some of them. Sometimes, we dismiss ideas simply because we don’t understand them. Again, this is not a good excuse. If the results sound good (“I lost 25 pounds” or “He’s pulling down three million a season”), take the time to understand.

Life is rich with opportunities — chances to be smarter, happier, richer, and more successful. Sometimes, they appear fully formed and stare you in the eyes until you recognize them. More often, they arrive in puffs and whiffs — ephemeral suggestions and remarks made by friends and colleagues. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you’ll recognize them. But noticing them is not enough. You have to keep your heart open too and block out your mind’s instinct to give you a list of good and rational reasons why you shouldn’t seize the day.

Note: Lest I be accused of hypocrisy on this issue, I admit that I dismiss ideas all the time. In my case, however, I can do so with impunity for I have special intellectual access to the Oracle of Delphi. Unless you do too, make it a habit to refrain from figuring out “What’s wrong” and think instead, “How can I apply this?”

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]