Your Ideas – Big Enough To Scare You?

Posted on December 12, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Posted in: Blog

I saw a quote the other day that said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” It’s probably a fairly common quote but this was the first time I’d seen it and it happened the same day I saw an article about a Dutch man who built an Ark. Inspired by the biblical story , Johan Huibers built a full scale replica of Noah’s Ark. It’s now open to visitors and up to 3000 people per day can tour the purpose-built shelter of our animal kingdom. It’s the kind of story that makes you think, “Huh? Really?”

I won’t explain the details of his Ark, you can Google it if you’re fascinated. I sure was fascinated. But before I read the story I found myself staring at a photo of his smiling face and his Ark and dozens of questions ran through my mind: “Why would someone do this? How did he pull that off? How much did it cost him? How long did it take? Where did he come up with a suitable design? What inspired him to commit to such a grand project? What skills did he have that gave him comfort in such a journey? And to be sure, a project like this is a journey. Did he plan it all out or did he jump in with a leap of faith and deal with challenges as they came up? Who and how many called him crazy? What were the major obstacles that he anticipated and what were the major obstacles that he actually encountered?  What do you do with yourself when you actually complete a project like this? Does the journey re-define you and you’re led to even more preposterous ideas or is it all downhill from here?”

You see, big ideas are scary. The unknown is out there to slap you down. If the ideas you are dreaming up aren’t scaring you, then you probably can’t relate. And those people who are working on their own big ideas would see a story like this Ark and think, “Sure. Why not?”

So big ideas are relative. One person’s big idea may be just a bit scary to them but it may scare the heck out of other people. Certainly it’s a vision thing. We dream big, or what’s relatively big to ourselves, and then we weigh the risks against the rewards and ask, “Is it worth it?” This must be the case. Others have dreamed big. That’s why we have pyramids, a Great Wall, a Chunnel between England and France, footprints on the moon, and atom smashers. Each of those and hundreds of other big ideas started with a big scary dream.

We can’t help but notice a big idea in business that was once a big scary dream by a few men. Microsoft and Apple are two contemporary examples in our tech sector. Berkshire Hathaway is an example from our financial sector. The Wright Brothers had a big scary idea. So did Henry Ford. These men dreamed big, committed, and worked the idea from a nugget to a monolithic achievement. In their own way they were each pioneers with big ideas.

How do big ideas gain momentum? I’ll share a story of a man I worked for. He was the City Editor of a small town newspaper. One day, senior management directed him and other mid-level managers into a professionally conducted training exercise intended to help middle management aspire to greatness and achieve more for the company. Sitting around the table, they were asked to write down an impossible goal – for example: winning the lottery or ending up on a deserted island with a super model. Next they were to write down a goal that would take EVERYTHING they could offer and was plausible only if they could go all-in. Next they were to write down a very challenging but ultimately rewarding goal they could achieve at the office. The exercise was to get them to dream realistically about professional achievement at the local paper and come up with ways to accomplish realistic goals.

That day, several of the guys in this session went to lunch together and began talking. It turns out that after laughing about the impossible goals they each came up with, they became intrigued with their plausible personal goals that had previously seemed so distant and unachievable. The process of writing them down and talking about them made them more real and worthy of effort.  And the professional goals seemed to pale in comparison.

Within the next few months, several of these men left the company to pursue their big idea. They didn’t think they could get to where they wanted to be if they stayed with their current employer. We can be quite sure that was not what Sr. Management intended in offering this exercise, but there you go. Big ideas have a way of consuming people.

My boss was the first of these men to leave and act on his dream. He was the sole provider for a wife and two infants at the time and leaving was scary. He elbowed his way in to a small aviation magazine, negotiated ownership, and over the next few years he increased the content and circulation and revenues more than ten-fold. They had some hard times, and his wife had to find work to help support the family early on but the magazine grew quickly and provided the freedom and leadership and creative opportunities he desired. It put him directly in his personal interests – aviation. It was a big idea. Others said he was crazy. But to this day it has provided security, adventure, and financial rewards and his dream has fulfilled his expectations.

Have you got a big idea or a dream? Does it scare you? What are you going to do about that?