I recently did a presentation on innovation. In preparation, I asked attendees to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 on how creative or innovative they considered themselves. Then, for those who didn’t rate themselves a 10 (there was only one who did), I asked them what obstacle was in their way.
A number of people judged themselves to be too practical or admitted to getting hung up analyzing the practicality of an idea.
Ah, practicality: The enemy of awesome ideas.
Many a brainstorming session has come to a screeching halt when someone suggests an idea deemed “impractical.” Progress dies as a debate emerges around whether or not an idea is practical, logical, feasible, sensible, or affordable. No more ideas are generated and everyone leaves the meeting thinking it was a giant waste of time.
Meanwhile, Adultitis takes a victory lap.
Because practical, logical, feasible, sensible, and affordable are five of Adultitis’ favorite words.
Have you ever met a five-year-old with a big idea concerned with it being practical, logical, feasible, sensible, or affordable?
Imagine a meeting in which the stakeholders of a restaurant were trying to figure out the best way to stand out in a competitive tourist market. It’s a Swedish restaurant, and the meatballs and pancakes are already top-notch. Now imagine someone raising their hand and saying, “I have an idea…why don’t we plant some grass on the roof and throw some goats up there?”
Except that’s exactly what Al Johnson’s in Door County, Wisconsin did. It’s quite the sight when you see the bright green roof driving down the street. People regularly gather on the sidewalk to gawk and take pictures of the goats (even though there are probably fenced-in goat paddocks less than a mile away, sans the tourists). It’s one of the top three things people share with others after their Door County vacation. And the place is always packed.
But I’m certain it didn’t come about via a staff-wide brainstorming session on a Monday morning. Because it never would have passed muster as practical, logical, feasible, sensible, or affordable.
The best ideas rarely are…at first.
Why bother building a horseless carriage that runs on gasoline when there is nowhere to drive it and no such thing as gas stations?
What idiot would suggest color as a way to sell more computers, when it has absolutely no impact on more important qualities like speed, power, storage capacity, or price?
Or consider the feedback a Yale University professor gave to Fred Smith on a paper he wrote proposing a reliable overnight delivery service: “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”
Hmm, there’s one of Adultitis’ favorite words again: Feasible.
Unfeasibly, Fred Smith went on to found Federal Express.
Here’s an interesting point: The professor was right. In order for FedEx to succeed as an actual business, it did have to be feasible. The professor just didn’t have the capacity to see how it could be. Fred did and eventually figured out a way to make it so.
Steve Jobs used color to make the original iMac computers look like fun, candy-coated objects of desire, and their great success turned the tide from Apple as a failing brand to a global behemoth.
Time and time again, success comes to those who embrace counter-intuitive ideas, exploit the blindspots of experts, and break rules that don’t exist. When the crazy idea works, it suddenly looks like a foregone conclusion in hindsight.
I assure you that grass and goats didn’t seem like an obvious move at the time.
And that first horseless carriage, later known as a car, wasn’t anything close to practical, logical, feasible, sensible, or affordable…at first.
These qualities are important, eventually. Practicality and logic are superpowers. But they should not be dictators. Please don’t let them kill your ideas before they’ve had a chance to get off the ground.
And maybe even onto the roof. 🐐