Experience is the enemy of thinking big. So is fear, caution, politics and perfection. The problem is these issues make up the very rungs of nearly every corporate ladder. That could make thinking big seem impossible. The good news is that it is not.
So, what exactly constitutes thinking big, how does one do it, and what typically gets in the way? Read on to find out.
What Big Thinkers Do
Big thinkers systematically create powerful new ideas, but first they create a process to come up with those ideas. Author Seth Godin, for example, blogs a new idea every single day. In fact, a blog is a wonderful place to organize your thoughts.
Big thinkers also aggressively execute on these ideas, even when the ideas are not completely ready. Consultant and author Alan Weiss believes a person should move when 80% ready. Chances are, only you will know the last 20% is missing. Yet, it’s this last 20% that keeps nearly all of us from moving forward on a good idea. Why don’t we think 80% is enough? For the same reasons I mentioned in the introduction: fear, caution, perfection and past experiences.
People who think big often perfect instead of invent. Think about every category Apple has dominated: smart phones, tablets, music downloading, software distribution. Apple wasn’t first to any of those categories, but it quickly perfected each. Similarly, there were retailers before Amazon, and there were grocery stores before Trader Joe’s. Big thinkers don’t necessarily have to blaze trails. They just have to make their trails the best freaking trails on the planet.
Similarly, big thinkers are selective about where they make a difference. Apple is famously particular about what it manufactures. Amazon is, too. While it’s making book readers and a few cheap accessories under its own brand, I doubt we’ll see it get into productivity software, like Google. And many say that Google isn’t being selective enough.
What Gets in the Way
The opposite of thinking big is defensive thinking. It is, unfortunately, how most of us go through our days. It starts with fear — fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of disapproval from superiors, clients or customers. For most, fear leads to the following:
- Overanalysis: What if it doesn’t work? What if it does? What if the worst happens? What if I lose the business?
- Procrastination: All of us have things we know we need to do that we’ve put off, often for weeks or months, and sometimes for years. Our fears cause this behavior.
- The stifling of creativity: If we’re afraid of the possible outcomes, how can we allow ourselves the time and environment to be creative?
- The draining of energy: So much bandwidth is given to analyzing and defending against potential negative ramifications that there’s little energy left for actually doing things.
There are at least two recent examples of how damaging corporate defensive thinking can be. Research in Motion is in shambles because it spent a year developing a tablet for fear of being left out. In the process, RIM forgot to continue innovating its actual strength: the BlackBerry phone. The sad result ended up on the cover of The Wall Street Journal.
Then there’s Best Buy, which invested so much money and effort into its online operation, it neglected its one true advantage in the retail business: physical stores. This kind of defensive posture prevented Best Buy from seeing the entire picture. Guess what happened? The world passed it by.
How to Think Big
I tell my clients every day that they can change their thinking. Here’s how.
- Burn your baggage. To get started, sit down in a place where you cannot be interrupted, and identify the experiences that are getting in the way. Then, understand this enormous truth: It’s over. Don’t allow it to negatively affect your future.
- Give yourself a place to think and have ideas. A blog is nearly a perfect arrangement for this. But so is a notebook. What’s critical is to carve out the time on your calendar and stick to it. Call it your idea time.
- Execute on your ideas when you’re almost ready. Remember, the last 20% is not what matters. Be bold!
- Start a lot. If you find yourself procrastinating, start working on something. It’s physics. An object at rest stays at rest, and motion begets motion. Move.
- Get a reality check. Why? Earlier in my career, I was stunned to find that most of my clients’ customers actually thought more positively about them than they thought about themselves. Don’t be afraid to find out where you stand.