The Power of Starting Something Stupid
How to Crush Fear, Make Dreams Happen, and Live Without Regret
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What is the power of starting something stupid? What if the smartest people in the world understand something that the rest of us don’t? (They do.) What if they know that in order to achieve success, they will sometimes have to do things that others may initially perceive as stupid? The fact of the matter is that the smartest people in the world don’t run from stupid; they lean into it (in a smart way).
I first heard about Richie sitting around a campfire at an event, and we recently did a panel together where I realized we were actually soul siblings. You will love his take on showing up and connecting with humans so you can make a bigger impact!
How many of the people who have solved massive world problems and created movements that changed the world all started with an idea that most thought was silly or stupid? So. Many. Most really…
Today, Richie will share how to crush fear, make dreams happen, and live without regret; how to overcome obstacles such as lack of time, lack of education, or lack of money; and the five actions of the New Smart to achieve authentic success. Let’s learn how to start something stupid—the smartest thing you can do!
In his book, drawing on years of research, including hundreds of face-to-face interviews and some of the world’s greatest success stories past and present, Richie shows you how stupid is the New Smart – the common denominator for success, creativity, and innovation in business and life.
Introduction to Richie
I was at a hotel in San Diego at a conference, sitting around a firepit. These other guys who were there for an AV conference and I started talking. They asked if I knew Richie Norton, they then proceeded to talk about how he was the most amazing human on the planet. I knew then that I had to meet him, so I went for it and sent him a FB message.
Cut to a year later, and we were both on a panel about how to show up online. Richie was mainly talking about podcasting. All the things we were saying were so in sync!
Richie brought his friend Pat Flynn to a video conference and he saw everyone holding these tripods made out of flexible plastic. It seemed like they were terrible for vlogging, so he wanted to make a better tool. There the SwitchPod was invented. $4,000 was raised on Kickstarter, and before release, it took two years to develop the product, but now it’s selling like crazy.
Richie’s brother-in-law lived with them off and on for five years out in Hawaii. One day, he didn’t wake up; he passed away in his sleep. In the U.S., you think that everyone’s going to grow old. You believe you’ll retire at 65 and live your dreams. This didn’t happen for Gavin.
A few years later, Richie had his fourth son, and they named him Gavin after his brother-in-law. Baby Gavin filled the hole of Uncle Gavin’s death in a way. A few months into his life, he got this cough. They said it was fine, but it persisted. One night, they took him to the hospital, and they were told he had contracted whooping cough/pertussis, then the worst happened. Baby Gavin, with Richie’s hand on his heart, passed away. As a parent, it was the worst thing ever to experience.
After these tragedies, he started to have all these thoughts about life and mortality. A mentor once asked Richie and his wife, “What did you learn from these deaths?” His wife didn’t know. Richie had thought about it a lot and codified it in this book, The Power of Starting Something Stupid, as Gavin’s Law.
“Live to start. Start to live.”
It’s the idea of “Live to start. Start to live.” If you start to live those ideas pressing on your mind, you will start living. So many people act like the walking dead and don’t know what to do with their lives. Richie has learned that even if the idea doesn’t work for some reason, the fact that you’re acting on something you’re thinking about, no matter how scared of it and stupid it may seem, it will help you feel alive and energized and lead you toward the great things you’re meant to do. It’s helped so many create some amazing projects.
Right now, we’re surrounded by fires here in California, which are really scary. There are so many moments to dive in and learn about something. So I really love this idea.
It’s a heavy story, but it’s an important one. A lot of people have experienced death or some other grief (especially this year). It’s not about moving on because these things are part of your memory and guide you in the rest of your life. It’s about moving forward and building on top of these experiences. When in grief, you feel bad for feeling good because you shouldn’t feel good right now. You also feel bad for feeling bad because it sucks to feel bad. It’s something that you live with, but if you choose, you can reframe it to help you create a message, a mission, and some positivity. Stay in that gratitude.
The T.E.M. Gap
When Richie was working on his book, he interviewed over 300 people in person and more through surveys. He was interviewing a lot of folks in or approaching retirement. He asked them questions about success. The people who felt they weren’t successful or less successful always told themselves something like, “I thought I needed more time, education, experience, and money,” only to find out when they finally got there, they still needed more of those things. They were waiting for something they thought they needed in the future only to find out that once they got to that future, they still needed it.
If that’s always just out of reach, what do the successful people do? They did what they could with what they had, where they were, right now. They leveraged existing resources. Lo and behold, the people who have the things you may want (money, fame (shallow, but it’s a thing), impact, mission) got it what they could without all the stuff. Or they didn’t. But at least they didn’t live a life with regret.
It’s not always out of your reach. Why don’t you just rethink it? If you think that you can’t, your brain will agree with you. If you ask an open-ended question that is painful, asking how to do something without the right amount of money, time, experience, or education, it leaves space for your brain to get creative and find the answers it needs. That’s how successful people work.
Most people think they don’t know how to do something and are done. Richie doesn’t know how to do anything, and that doesn’t stop him. You have to ask yourself if there is someone who knows how to do something that you want to do that you can learn from. Richie’s friend Benjamin Hardy wrote a book called Who Not How with Dan Sullivan, and Richie is the subject of the first chapter. The concept is it’s not always how; it’s who. There are so many people who can help you get it done in so many ways. But if you tell yourself that you can’t, that’s on you. No excuse. Especially today when anything is possible via the internet. It’s never been easier.
What’s funny is that in the average middle, where everyone is scared and trying to do the same things, that is the most competitive place to be. As soon as you move through the fray, there is so much room in tiny spaces because no one else is in there. It’s a thing.
One of my clients recently said, “Molly, it’s like we’re all in the labyrinth, and you are above it.” I like wearing heels, so… But for me, I have always gotten in trouble for asking questions because I’m so curious. I love figuring things out. Richie thinks that that can be learned. People have tendencies, but anything can be learned. Entrepreneurship is a learnable skill, he thinks. He had an Asian billionaire tell him that if he could buy a hamburger for $1 and sell it for $2, he could become rich. He was right. We overcomplicate things.
Think about the NBA. There is a game being played that you’re watching, and there is a game being played around you. The players are being paid a ton of money to play and the owners who have a ton of money are paying those players and making so much money off of every cheek in a seat. Those cheeks in seats are cardboard, which is hilarious. The NBA could have said they would have no audience. Then they figured out a way.
Yes, there is a game being played around you that you’re not aware of. But if you’re aware of the fact that there is a game being played around you that you’re not aware of, then you can become aware of it and figure it out.
Let’s Talk Leverage
A woman named Susan Peterson's husband was working construction jobs. She asked if she could recycle aluminum from the windows they were removing for cash. They said yes. So, she took the money from that and bought materials to make moccasins for babies. She sold them on Etsy at first; now she has her own website. At some point, one of the Kardashians had a baby and put the moccasins on the cover of a magazine. Her business blew up. She is now a multi-millionaire. Susan didn’t have money, but she had a “solid” idea, meaning that others would tell her she’s stupid and that’s a waste of time, etc. But she did it for a specific niche, and it got picked up and blew up. Here we are today.
- It’s an extreme example because it’s a rags to riches story. But almost all riches stories are rags to riches stories.
Here’s a classic example. Gandhi was a lawyer who couldn’t get a job. No one was letting him do his thing. He couldn’t even get a job as an English teacher. In his first case as a lawyer, his heart sank into his boots. He quit his first case in front of everyone. That’s why he went to South Africa to go do paperwork or something. It was there he experienced extreme racism and decided to do something about it. You know how he started?
He went to all the Indians in South Africa in Pretoria and figured out that they were experiencing prejudice through not speaking English, so he taught them English. With that he started with service, teaching people something he knew for free, as he was trying to figure out more methods of peaceful protest, these people became willing to do anything for him, and he became a massive leader.
- Extreme example, but again, humble beginnings. Someone who decided to begin with service.
The successful people generally started for free with service. In Richie’s book, he has an acronym, START. Serve, Thank, Ask, Receive, and Trust. When you serve others, when you thank them for the opportunity to serve them even though they should be thanking you, when you have earned the right to ask. Richie heard Seth Godin talk about this once.
The idea of someone asking you a complicated question when they don’t know you, you’re taken aback in those moments. But when you have a relationship with them, when they have earned the right to ask, then you drop everything and go. You receive graciously and gratefully and timely. A receiver in football catches a ball, and his job is to score. If he would put his knee down, everyone would be mad at him. That’s how it is when people give us gifts. We need to run with it and score because both people win. Then you trust the process.
Everyone can leverage their existing resources and serve, thank, ask, receive, and trust. They can overcome fear, procrastination, negativity. They can embrace the stupid idea they have. But we are all so scared. Once we can overcome that fear by taking one small action, then you got this. It’s okay to have big ideas, but you should start small. That is so crucial. That will move you from where you are to where you want to be, faster than you would if you tried to start big.
Proliferation = Perfection
Over preparedness has killed more ideas and businesses than anything else. We call it fear or procrastination, but it’s actually over preparedness. If you can live prepared, if you can have daily practices of a warm-up that help you more generally, it’s a different way of looking at being prepared. People use preparing as an excuse for procrastination.
Proliferation is more productive than perfection. Proliferation gets you closer to perfect faster. Richie’s friend Ben shared with him a story of a teacher who tells his art students to make pots. One class is told to make the perfect pot, so they spend the semester doing that. The other class is told to make as many pots as they can. That class makes way better pots at the end than the class working on the perfect pot. Always.
- It’s like doing live videos. Pre-recorded videos freak me out because of what Richie just said. Live videos could not start in more hilarious ways sometimes, but that’s what make them perfect.
Workaholic or Procrastinator
Most workaholics are actually procrastinators. They’re still at work because they don’t get anything done due to procrastination. For example, if you go to dinner, procrastinators like filling up on the bread and then not eating their dinner because they’re full. They’re super productive on the wrong things, not lazy. “I have this big project due tomorrow? I better go do the dishes right now.”
People will ask Richie, “I have been working on this idea for a year, but I haven’t made any money. Why?” “When is the last time you asked someone to pay you?” “Oh…” Richie doesn’t actually respond like this, but this is what he’d like to say: “You thought you were working, but you spent all your time pretending to work because you were overpreparing to work. If working to you means making dollars, then you need to be working on money-making activities.
Think about it, if you’re not asking people for money, you can’t make money. When the onus is back on you, it changes everything and if you’re not tracking how many people you are talking to, you’re not going to know how many people you need to talk to.
Perfect practice makes perfect
I am working on writing an album with some friends. We have written and recorded five songs and are working on some more. In the beginning, working on song lyrics, I was so frozen in thinking I had to find the exact right word. My friend Isaac said, “Listen and write the words. Without any judgment, write what comes to your mind.” I did that and realized I had shape to what I was doing. But I was frozen when trying to find the right thing.
Imagine trying to become perfect at the free throw in basketball by only throwing once because you had to get it in the first time. It’s a ridiculous thought. Throw it 1,000 times, and think about how to throw it 1,000 more. Then in the game, it’s the game. You make it or you don’t, but you’re prepared.
Similarly, I’m a crazy swing dancer who has done camps in Sweden and all over the world. In the advanced classes, we would work on a basic swing-out, not fancy new moves. If you do 100,000 swing-outs, that’s when you will get it. They want to dig back into the basics at that level because that’s when you get so advanced.
Fear into High Achievement
A lot of people will procrastinate because they’re afraid. To move from fear into high achievement, Richie has two ideas.
- His friend who’s a surfer went on a huge wave, and the wind picked him up, and he fell on his board like an axe, breaking his femur in half. He almost died. The waves kept hitting him, and eventually someone helped him. He had to get a metal pole put in his leg. Weeks later, he was back in the water surfing again. Richie was like, “What’s wrong with you? Aren’t you scared?” He said, “Of course I’m scared. Everyone in those big waves is scared. But I love it more than I fear getting hurt. It’s what I do.”
- Richie reverse psychology analyzed what his friend was talking about. He realized that his reason for doing what he does was bigger than his fear of something bad happening. He was more scared of not surfing than surfing and getting hurt. Like a mama bear who will risk her life for her cubs.
People ask Richie why he’s an entrepreneur. He has a million reasons. But one of the reasons was that he doesn’t want to have some person tell me whether he can coach his kid’s baseball team or not. He doesn’t want to ask for two weeks’ vacation when most people in jobs don’t take that time off anyway. He’s more scared of having a job than he is of having no money in his bank account. His fear of being controlled is greater than his fear of losing everything he has. You need to be more scared of something than the thing you’re scared of. Some might call this your “why.” WHOA.
His friend didn’t go out and surf big waves without knowing how to swim, how to ride a small wave first, how to fall down and get back up. He was incrementally able to get back up as a result even when that big wave knocked him down.
The Chocolate Factory
Richie had a guy reach out to him for coaching who had just inherited a million dollars from his uncle. He said he was going to start a Mexican chocolate factory. Richie told him that sounded awesome and asked him what his plan was. The guy said he was going to spend all his money on the factory. “How many chocolate bars do you have to sell to make that money back?” Richie suggested private labeling it, telling him to Google a quote for less than $5,000.
Instead of spending time building a factory, he pre-sold the chocolate and saved $995,000. People have a goal and oftentimes the way they think they will get there is not the way. It helps to do some research and dive in with those constraints.
People want to start businesses to save time, money, and freedom. It will be an executive making $250,000 a year who wants to start a gym to save time and money and have more free time with their family. Who will open and close the gym every day? You probably won’t hire someone to run it for you. It will take you 2-5 years to buy a few of them.
This makes no sense. Let’s jump to the freedom part. Go on the road right now and build businesses from it, not businesses toward it. Otherwise, you’ll never get there. You will have the lifestyle if you begin with the lifestyle. People have a dream to have more time, but all of their time gets sucked away into the business they thought would give them more time. But you don’t have to do it that way.
How Authenticity Wins
We had so much go wrong at the beginning of this video, and it was awesome. The tech was broken, and Richie couldn’t get on, so now he is sitting on the beach in the rain. And I have no mic. So things are great over here.
Authenticity is the absence of fear, pride, and procrastination. When you do have those things, you lean into them anyway without trying to make yourself look like something you’re not. Think about it this way. Imagine if you had no fear, pride, or procrastination. What would you do? Anything. Nothing can stop you. When you shed that shell, you can show up as your authentic self.
Does that mean you won’t have fear, pride, or procrastination? No. It means instead of staying inside that shell like a chick that doesn’t hatch and dies, you push through it and make stuff happen anyway. That is authenticity.
Don't live in fear
A lot of times, we build our lives around our past traumas or things that we’re scared of, which is not authentic. If you’re scared of swimming because you don’t know how to swim, therefore you don’t go to the beach, that’s living your life around fear. That’s not you. Authenticity might be hiring someone to teach you how to swim so you don’t drown when you go in the water. Authenticity is oftentimes the opposite of who we are because who we are is built around fears that we’re trying to avoid, being vulnerable and willing to take chances and push through the fear makes us see the power of starting something stupid!
- The Power of Starting Something Stupid by Richie Norton
- Who Not How by Dan Sullivan & Dr. Benjamin Hardy
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