The three dumbest guys I can think of: Charles Lindbergh, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill. Why? Because any smart person who understood how impossibly arduous were the tasks they had set themselves would have pulled the plug before he even began.

Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway. How do we achieve this state of mind? By staying stupid. By not allowing ourselves to think.

How do we achieve this state of mind? By staying stupid. By not allowing ourselves to think. A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.

Steven Pressfield
Do the Work (New York City: The Domino Project, 2011), Loc. 161-163

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38 thoughts on “Stay Stupid

  1. Currently reading “Do the Work” and I just hit upon that quote the other day. It’s kinda true when you think about it.

    Imagine how many great accomplishments have been nipped in the bud because the dreamer decided it was an impossible task.

    When dreamers become doers, the world quakes with change.


  2. Great quote! So inspiring! This totally applies to those of us in Platform U. We don’t even know what we don’t know, but we’re crazy enough to believe we can do it anyway!

  3. So all that knowledge we try to absorb can hurt us. I wonder at the parallel of child-like faith and being born again to approach the world with an “innocence” toward accomplishment and achievement.

    On the other hand…there’s something to be said to pushing back against the naysayers.

  4. Michael, you are so right. Dumbo is actually my cartoon hero, as he didn’t know that he couldnt fly, so he did. He ignored all the obvious evidence and just did it.

  5. Really timely!
    If we seek to do what’s possible, then it’s only us and our efforts that are seen.
    But if go out and do what’s impossible, then God will be seen and magnified and glorified. :)

    • Thanks for pointing out the broken link, John. Operator error (i.e., I screwed it up!)
      Thanks also for your participation in the conference. You did an outstanding job. All my girls LOVED your presentation. I hope you are feeling better.

  6. I think of this often w/ my kids: They have no clue what is or isn’t impossible. They know what they love and the do what they love.

  7. The keyword in this quote is Impossible. When someone says that to me, I get excited. It means that no one has done it before. Maybe it’s my sense of adventure, or just plain stupidity, but I love an impossible challenge. That makes a goal worthwhile.

    • Dan, I think you are right.  It is so easy to conclude that I just don’t know enough. Quite often my thinking isn’t the problem.  As you note, over thinking can keep us from doing.

  8. At first I thought: “This quote is stupid,” and then “..oh, wait.”

    It really is like the quote from Ford: “obsticles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off of the goal.”  

    This is going to be really difficult for me to do…

  9. Couldn’t agree more! I over-think things way too much! I start to rationalize and talk myself out of something I know in my heart is the right or the best thing to do. You can talk your way out of anything so I have found that I just have to commit myself before thinking too much.

    For things to which my first reaction is “yes, this is awesome, this is right and this is good!” I have started just committing myself to them before I have a chance to say no, haha. And it is working. It’s helping me to overcome that over-thinker.  For example, the opportunity for my first real speaking engagement came up a little less than a year ago. It was to be held in Chicago (I live in Athens, GA) and it promised to be in front of a crowd of many influential with tons more experience, knowledge, and confidence than I had. My first reaction was, “This would be an amazing opportunity, both for me personally as well as a tremendous networking event for the young company I had founded with my twin brother and a friend from college. And it would be so exciting – what an adventure!” And then the rationalization and the thinking started to kick in: wait, this is a big city (Chicago!), a big venue with lots of important people that are way smarter than me. Maybe I shouldn’t do this…

    That’s when I realized what was happening – I was talking myself out of an incredible opportunity – so I accepted the engagement on the spot! And it was fantastic! I was prepared, I delivered well, and many people came up to me interested and impressed by what I had to say – all of which blew my mind and just went to show me that God was in control, not me, haha. It was quite humbling and a fantastic experience that I almost missed out on. 

    • Good for you!  It sounds like you are making great progress in not allowing over-thinking to keep you from doing.  I appreciate what you stress here.  Commit before allowing yourself to rationalize.  Thanks.

  10. Thought provoking lines…….Maybe that’s what Jesus meant by ‘Childlike Faith’
    I am going to try and remain stupid…. Let me try and find how it works for me in my business…

  11. Our world celebrates mediocrity. In school, compliant kids got good grades; creative kids went to detention. Being forced into the mold of normalcy convinced many people they had to do what “normal” people do. When we begin to unlock and live our passions, we’ll realize that the trail is leading us to an undiscovered land. The masses are back in the town celebrating their normalcy. Blaze a trail or return to town. One requires confidence, the other complacency. Which do you have?

  12. Love this quote. 
    I’ve been reading to my children the autobiography of Thomas Edison. One of my favorite parts is when he was called “addled”  by his teacher. Obviously, instead of believing those words he proves them completely wrong. 
    Words are powerful. We tend to fulfill the words we tell ourselves, “I’m going to be late, I’m no good, it will never work.” Instead we need to be saying, “I’m going to be early, I can do this, and it will work.” 
    So many times in my own life I’ve chosen to simply step out in faith, not listen to the naysayers, and press on. And, even in the midst of that, I’ll have the moments of “what am I doing?” but instead of listening to that voice I’ve learned to keep putting one foot in front of the other, pressing on, and believing that the dream will, in fact, become reality. 
    I really appreciate you sharing this quote today. 

  13. While I’m a fan of your blog, Mike … I caution any leader to think of arrogance as an “indispensable ally,” even the type of arrogance defined here as bullheaded persistence.
    How many leaders have you known who, while technically successful in the end, used their bullheadedness as an excuse to ride over people in their pursuit of success?

    • I look at “Arrogance ” in Steven’s context as Boldness. Basil King said “”Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” I can’t think of a more bold move than to be arrogant enough to pull off something bigger than yourself.

  14. In the vernacular of the IM generation… OMG!!!  That is a powerfully profound statement!  I have to agree with it totally!

  15. My biggest challenge is that I want to be this way.  I am an insatiable planner.  I can plan a project from A-Z and I can get it moving, but slowly.  I’m like a great machine.  I’m someone who dislikes change (although I’m getting better at dealing with it) and I hate surprises.  I know that I simply need to embrace an overall framework for making decision based on my mission and vision and then just MOVE.  Thanks for this quote, Michael and for all that you do.

  16. Stay stupid my friends… In all seriousness, I think this post highlights the importance of subtractive thinking. What not to think about is sometimes more important than what you should be thinking about. Physical health is the same way. Buying a product will not make you healthier, a machine, or getting involved in a program, unless you stop doing the things that make you sick. 

  17. I love Pressfield’s straight forward approach.  I would definitely say that most of us are sorrounded by “smart” people, “smart” people with a lot of fears, people who can see how broken or challenging it is going to be before it happens.  So, they don’t do it. Hmmmm, so here’s to the dumb ones :-).  I’m looking to create something new today!  Thanks for this quote Michael!

    • Isn’t this a wonderful quote?  I also love Pressfield’s approach.  He has a way of getting my attention.  (Like talking about the three dumbest guys!)  Thanks Robert.

  18. What a dilemma. Do I actually have to be stupid and not think to be successful? Does anyone actually think that Churchill, Jobs and Lindbergh were stupid or did not think? Of course they were very intelligent and they thought more than the average person does. They key was that they did not allow themselves to talk themselves out of doing what they had a passion to do. They knew the risks. They knew that failure was always a possibility – they did not let that stop them. ~Dan Murphy 

  19. This made me realize how much harder it can be to take those “stupid” leaps of faith as a person or company gets older. The older we get, the more we know too much. It can be hard to get beyond been-there-done-that. Fear keeps us from doing some amazing things, doesn’t it?

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