Human resource professionals prefer clever people. This post will tell you why it’s paramount for founders to be crazy. It will take you back thousands of years. I will explain why Borat is funny. Most importantly, it will explain what kind of crazy is good for startups. Good crazy is power. Use it.
A young boy was crying. He felt a burning sensation on his chin. He had felt it many times before. The hand that hit him was accompanied with shouting. This time it came from one of his dad’s hunting partners. But the boy was learning. The shouting didn’t happen so often anymore. The year was 12.000 BC.
For most of human existence we lived in tight knit communities. We had to. Life was too brutal to survive alone. Surviving was succeeding.
They key to success was to stay part of the community. To fit in. To conform. Conformity is about behaving according to expectations.
Expectations about behavior are formed by norms. Norms are created by communities. And communities are organized around economic activities. In pre-modern times economic activities consisted of hunting, fishing and pillaging. Today economic activity is made up by companies.
Society prepares us for work in companies. We are taught conformity by parents, teachers and television. And so it happens. Most people conform. We even laugh at people who don’t. They appear funny. Like Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters: Borat, Ali G, the Dictator etc.
Do you know why these characters are funny? It’s because they are non-threatening. We know that they are too non-conformist to succeed in the real world. They couldn’t seduce your wife or steal your position in the hunting party.
But recently something incredible happened. A change so fundamental it has left the human mind disrupted.
Conformity has become obsolete
Evolution formed humans to ensure survival through conformity. Those days are over.
Today survival no longer depends on being part of a community. We don’t starve or get killed by lions. Conformity is not necessary for survival. We don’t have to work in a company. We can leave the community. Founders leave to create startups.
Startups are not companies. Startups are dreams. Founders must materialize their dream. The way founders materialize the dream is by attracting resources.
All the resources startups need are held by other people. Such as: cash held by investors, cash held by customers, time and attention of advisors, time and energy of talented employees. All of these are controlled by other people.
Norms dictate how we interact with other people. Consequently, norms influence how we get access to resources. Norms limit options for obtaining resources.
Now imagine this: You want a cup of coffee from Starbucks. You have limited money. Most people would wait for a discount. They only got a single way to get what they want.
But, instead of waiting for a discount. Would you do the following?
Walk into Starbucks, wait in line. When it becomes your turn, you pull out your own cup and ask them to fill it and give you 50% off. Say that the discount is because you brought your own cup. The people behind you laugh and roll your eyes. But you maintain that you should get 50%. You say you won’t leave until you get what you want.
Most people won’t. Why? Because you would break norms. It’s crazy. But that’s exactly the kind of crazy successful founders are made of. Let me tell you why.
Crazy founders make good bets
Founders who don’t feel the necessity to be conform have unlimited possibilities for obtaining the resources they need. Creativity is their only limitation. People who are conform would wait for Starbucks to hand out vouchers. But that’s not the only advantage of crazy.
Crazy people make great bets. A good bet is one where you can win more than you can lose. Financial engineers would call it asymmetric risk reward profile. In the case of Starbucks, the reward is 50% discount. That’s hard cash. The downside is a No. People laughing and rolling their eyes. That’s pride. Startup success is defined by cash rather than by pride.
The real problem is this. Conformity is actually rational. A normal mind tells you that the downside is bigger than the upside. The upside is saving money, but the downside is being excluded from the community, and die. Except that today none dies. But evolution couldn’t keep up.
The right kind of Crazy
Good crazy is a special bug in the mental software. It’s when risk reward calculations don’t account for conformity.
Like when a young Steve Jobs looked up the biggest mogul in the computer industry in the phone book. He called Bill Hewlett and asked Bill to send him spare parts. For free!
Or when Henry Ford didn’t care about the power of the automobile industry. Henry Ford broke their patents and challenged the biggest name in the industry to race him.
Or when Ingvar Kamprad refused to deal with Swedish lumber suppliers. Instead he dealt with Polish suppliers and came in bad standing with the entire Swedish industry. He didn’t care. His startup was Ikea.
Or the many founders in our portfolio companies that no one knows (yet). These founders do these things on a small scale all the time.
In most cases, the upside is obtaining something important. The downside is being shunned by the “community”. To crazy people that’s a good bet. And they take it.
What founders must do
If you are a founder, I suspect you are a little crazy. You have to be.
If you are crazy and sometimes feel bad. Don’t. Actually, you should cherish and nurture it. You played a trick on evolution. Mother nature is not easily fooled. Know that you have a mind perfectly suited for startups. You might lack friends who get you. I know. It can hurt.
If you are an aspiring founder and wonder if you are crazy enough, test it. Practice crazy. Talk to groceries in the supermarket. Ask strangers for kisses. Buy expensive things with coins. Remember. In the little strange world of startups, crazy is good.
- Humans were designed to be conform
- Crazy people are not conforming
- No conformity means endless possibilities to get what you want
- Crazy founders make good bets
- Crazy founders should feel good about being crazy