I love the Tom Hanks’ movie Big, don’t you? I think everyone can relate to the feeling of being “just a kid” in the big, scary, grown-up world. But, the truth is, kids often have a leg up on us “grown-ups” when it comes to solving problems and getting things done. As the movie proves, a certain amount of naiveté is sometimes the secret ingredient to big success.
Personal example: this morning, I became an official winner of Nanowrimo 2009. What the heck is that, right? It’s an annual challenge where some 140,000 completely insane people set aside the month of November to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Any sane person (especially any “real” writer) would call this event intrinsically idiotic. Usually, I’d be prone to agree. But, this year, something in my brain snapped, and I signed up. In the true spirit of the competition, I entered the arena armed with only the vaguest idea of plot and very little knowledge about how to write a story, never mind a novel.
The final product of my labors is a very unorganized, meandering, and incomplete novel that will have to be rewritten top to bottom before it’s presentable. Still, I don’t consider one minute of the nearly fifty hours I invested wasted. By jumping in with both feet and no parachute, I have given myself the opportunity to get the kind of first-hand experience that is critical to eventual success. No one ever gets something right the first time – you have to earn your expertise by trying, failing, learning, and trying again. Nanowrimo let me take action even though I was only a “babe in the woods.” It let me fail quickly so I could get back up and do better next time.
It’s the same with marketing. I understand that there will be consequences if your marketing department starts acting like a bunch of twelve year-olds; but bear with me. There are literally thousands of marketing gurus, experts, and pundits – each with his or her particular marketing dogma. If you tried to absorb and adhere to all the available rules and recommendations, you’d be instantly paralyzed by a fear of screwing up big time.
But, if your CEO was a kid, you wouldn’t worry about failing, care that you didn’t have the right PhD, or fret over having not read the recent manifesto from the latest up and coming marketing intellectual. If your CEO was a kid, you wouldn’t focus on obstacles like budget constraints, resource issues, or legal concerns. You wouldn’t give up on your mission because someone else already did something similar, or because no one had ever done anything like it before. With typical kid-powered genius, you’d just plow ahead, ignoring the long list of things people said couldn’t be done. You’d just try stuff until something worked.
And you know what? Just by changing your mindset and putting limitations aside, you’d open yourself up to a whole new world of possibilities. You’d free yourself to explore the kind of creativity that would lead to innovative solutions because you looked in unusual places and saw problems from a different perspective.
Though the “experts” hate to admit it, seat-of-the-pants experimentation is often what leads to the next genius idea. It’s having the gumption to try something unexpected that propels a company in a leadership position. Sometimes, it pays to be a little naïve about what you’re getting yourself into … and to just go for it anyway.
What do you think? Have you heard more success stories about companies that played by the rules, or broke them? Which stories stand out in your mind? Which ones inspire you?