Ever look at prominent figures in the world and wonder how they stand out from all the rest? I believe it comes down to how they think. I believe you can think like them too. Or. Not. Like. Them..? At this point, you may not know what the word Iconclast means, but by the end of this post I hope you will be inclined to think a bit differently.
Gregory Burns talks about people who do things others say can’t be done in his book Iconclast – A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently . He calls them Iconclasts.
He succinctly describes being an iconclast hinges on 3 things: perception, courage and social skills.
The successful iconclast learns to see things clearly for what they are and are not influenced by other peoples options. He keeps his amydala in check and does not let fear rule his decisions. And he expertly navigates the complicated waters of social networking so that other people eventually come to see things the way he does.
If you are like me you’ll want a shorter and easier way to remember the word:
Thinking different is so easy, yet it baffles me how many people do the exact opposite. They think the same as everyone else. For some reason they don’t want to be different. They don’t want to separate themselves from the crowd for they just might have to form an opinion. They think the same as their neighbor, their classmates, the same as their teammates and they even the same as their competitors. To me this is just crazy and a recipe for averagism.
Seriously, when did it become generally accepted to think the same as your competitor? I am pretty sure this type of thinking did not go on in the days of early civilization. If someone did I guarantee they we’re quickly eliminated… Thinking the same as the competition is what gets us all these copy-cat products that flood the market. How many different Groupon competitors do we need? How many different brands of ‘Bran Flakes’ Cereal is enough. I could go on and on, but I won’t because I’m not here to inspire you to copy others. My goal is to inspire you to think differently. And since we all are capable of thinking… being an Iconclast is now up to you and your thoughts.
Berns describes in detail how our brains actually perceive thoughts. Being too scientific for this post, I will only encourage you to buy and read the book for yourself. But to paraphrase: because we learn from past experiences and past experiences shapes both our perception and our imagination, we tend to constrain our views on things as we grow older. This is not good for much of anything, but most importantly you will begin lose your creativity. As time goes on you start to see the same things as everyone else. And if you see everything others are seeing, you are not to unique. How are you supposed to be innovative when you see just the same as the others? Berns suggests we continue to bombard to brain with new experiences.
I suggest running the exact opposite direction as everyone else. I have always been attracted to uniqueness. It doesn’t have to be anything eccentric, just being different. Everyone staying in their safe job because of the recession… quit yours and pursue your dream of building a company. You will have a leg up since most others are going in the opposite direction. Seeing a lot of other companies are offering “daily deals for X” and “social networking for Y”? Why not have an original vision and do something different? Most importantly, get out of the daily routine you have slipped into over the last 8 years. Take Berns advice and change your life. Create new experiences. Iconclasts do this and succeed.
Plain and simple, humans hate fear and live everyday to avoid the feeling. Fear prevents people from taking action, and even worse it changes the way they see the world. The ultimate underpinnings of fear is failure, which is the strongest force inconclasts overcome. Berns notes fear permeates any business and should only be taken as a warning sign. Once the fear is recognized, it can be deconstructed and reappraised. So there you go – everyone experiences fear. Inconclasts dissect it and figure out what it is actually pointing to. Then they act accordingly.
Here’s my take: Most people in the world are scared, weak overgrown children. Sorry to be so blunt, but this is what I have picked up over the years. Just as we tried to fit in with the “cool” kids on the playground during recess, we go about our lives in constant fear of what people think. Most people never live as an independent thinker because they are so worried of what other people will think about them.
I say “who gives a @#$% “and “Screw what they think“. Why do you care what some random guy thinks about you or your idea? Here’s the truth: One minute after you leave the conversation he will forget what his opinion of your idea was. He has enough to care about in his life, why would he waste time thinking about you?
Here is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, an Iconclast I have always looked up to referring to his willingness to be misunderstood. He has no fear of failure:
If you invent frequently and are willing to fail, then you never get to that point where you really need to bet the whole company. AWS also started about six or seven years ago. We are planting more seeds right now, and it is too early to talk about them, but we are going to continue to plant seeds. And I can guarantee you that everything we do will not work. And, I am never concerned about that…. We are stubbon on vision. We are flexible on details…. We don’t give up on things easily. Our third party seller business is an example of that. It took us three tries to get the third party seller business to work. We didn’t give up.
My mind never lets me get in a place where I think we can’t afford to take these bets, because the bad case never seems that bad to me. And, I think to have that point of view, requires a corporate culture that does a few things. I don’t think every company can do that, can take that point of view. A big piece of the story we tell ourselves about who we are, is that we are willing to invent. We are willing to think long-term. We start with the customer and work backwards. And, very importantly, we are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.
I believe if you don’t have that set of things in your corporate culture, then you can’t do large-scale invention. You can do incremental invention, which is critically important for any company. But it is very difficult — if you are not willing to be misunderstood. People will misunderstand you.
Any time you do something big, that’s disruptive — Kindle, AWS — there will be critics. And there will be at least two kinds of critics. There will be well-meaning critics who genuinely misunderstand what you are doing or genuinely have a different opinion. And there will be the self-interested critics that have a vested interest in not liking what you are doing and they will have reason to misunderstand. And you have to be willing to ignore both types of critics. You listen to them, because you want to see, always testing, is it possible they are right?
But if you hold back and you say, ‘No, we believe in this vision,’ then you just stay heads down, stay focused and you build out your vision.
To be successful, it comes down to one’s ability to connect with other people. Two aspects of social intelligence figure prominently in success or failure: familiarity and reputation. Incidentally the two are interconnected, since in order to sell your ideas you must create a positive reputation that will draw people toward what is initially unfamiliar and potentially scary. Familiarity helps build your reputation. Simply put: to get their ideas into the mass market iconclasts must be able to connect with people.
Think about someone right now who you admire and feel they are a “success” in your eyes. And now ask yourself this: “Are they good with people? Do they know how to navigate the social waters?” I guarantee they (or someone they are close to) understands this principal. Being an iconclast, thinking different, changing your perception, and dealing with your fear will only get you so far. I would argue being great in the people department completes the package and helps you rise to prominence.
If you have been reading the words Think Different and imagining a certain company, I am sure you are not alone. It’s not a coincidence the largest Technology company and one of the most recognizable brands in the world adopted that phrase in most of their marketing. Apple thinks differently. I believe the Different Thinking of their founder Steve Jobs is the sole reason they are where they are today. I will leave you with a video that sends chills down my spine. It is one of the early Apple commercials and the first one in which they used the term Think Different. Enjoy.