Richie Norton on The Power of Starting Something Stupid

richiebwIt was great way to start the second half of 2013 with a phone conversation with Richie Norton, the author of The Power of Starting Something Stupid. This is Richie’s second book (after Resumes are Dead and What to Do About It). Richie shared with me that the book was the result of his quest to find out what makes some people successful.The answer surprisingly was that there was a pattern that was common for most successful people – they all started something stupid (or at least what people around them thought was stupid).

Here is a quick interview with Richie on topics surrounding the book:

RS: What was the inspiration to start the book?

RN: If I can sum up, I would say there were three main things:

1. Over the last six years, I have been on a quest to find out what makes people successful. I discovered that more often than not, it is their courage to start something so called “stupid” or “crazy.”

2. I lost my 21-year-old brother-in-law and my 10-week old son (both named Gavin) and it hit upon me that life is too short not to act on those most pressing thoughts that come to our mind even if they seem “stupid.”

3. I was doing retirement consulting and learned that many people in retirement had waited their whole lives to do something they wanted to do. They waited for more time, more education or more money, only to find out when the time they imagined they could start their dream came, they still needed more time, more education or more money. Further, they had to navigate a completely different set of circumstances than when they originally had their dream–a spouse had passed away, their health had changed or they didn’t have the money they thought they would have. I learned that waiting to start dreaming until the “smart time” comes can be dangerous and that now (the present moment) is the only time we are truly guaranteed.

[ Related: Please read why some smart people don’t take action? ]

The above three together inspired me to write the book.

RS: Did you start anything stupid personally, Richie?

RN: Yes. I’ve a very stupid person. I’ve started many stupid things, actually (smile)! But let me start with something early in my life. I went to BYU (Brigham Young University) at Hawaii. We had students from 70 different countries – so a very diverse crowd. Many students wanted to go back home, but had a hard time seeing opportunities for employment.

I was student body president at the time and started thinking about the challenge these students faced. I asked myself, “What could they do? and “How can I help?” and after a while I had an epiphany so to speak.

What if they could find self-reliance through self-employement in their home countries? Entrepreneurship seemed to be the answer. I wrote a business plan on this topic and showcased it in the business plan competition. Sadly, the plan failed at the first stage.

Power Starting Something_coverSome people may have given up when they were told their plan was a failure, but I didn’t stop there. Some said I was “stupid” or “crazy” for going after this dream to help people start businesses in developing countries, but I persisted. I actually raised money, created a fund and decided to back certain budding entrepreneurs who had won the business plan competition. For example, a woman from Mongolia wanted to start a cashmere company and had won the competition a couple years earlier. So, I went ahead and backed her and became a part of the cashmere company. It was a reasonable success and “stupid suddenly became smart.” BYU-Hawaii worked closely with me to help create the business model and put mentors in place. They then used that model to legitimize the need for a Center for Entrepreneurship (which has now been established) and since then many students have been helped to start companies in their home countries

RS: I am sure people have a lot of stupid ideas. Which stupid ideas should they choose?

RN: I get asked this a lot. My response always has been to follow what I call the “Will I regret it when I am  80 rule.” I learned this from Jeff Bezos’ example. Let me explain.

When Jeff Bezos hatched the idea for Amazon, he was working on Wall Street and was making good money. When he explained his idea to sell books online to his boss, his boss told him that it “would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job.”

Jeff thought about it for a while and it was clear that if he didn’t give this a shot, he would regret it when he was eighty. He quit the job in the middle of the year (crazy because he would lose the annual bonus) and started Amazon. The rest is history as we know it. [You can read more about this incident here:]

 People have to think – “Of all the ideas they have, which idea would they regret most not doing?” and then go ahead and execute on it.

RS: Where should someone start?

RN: People are good at having a really big vision. They picture changing the world. But, they seem to wait until they have more time, education, money and connections. I urge them to step back and focus on just getting ONE going. Start with what’s right in front of them. They should strip away all the stuff and start with that one individual.

I use the acronym S.T.A.R.T to explain the process

S | Serve – Serving other people helps you start relationships.

T | Thank – When you are grateful and thank other people, you solidify your relationships with them.

A | Ask – An appropriate way to ask is to do what I call “mission matching.” You ask them something that they wanted to do anyway. You match your ask with their mission.

R | Receive –  You have to be open to receiving. You can accept the gift and stop there or you can be open to receiving it AND doing something about it.

T | Trust – You then have to start trusting the process.

RS: Are there some quick takeaways from the book that you can share?

RN: I’d be happy to – here are five of them:

1. Gavin’s Law. As I explained earlier, my brother-in-law Gavin and my son Gavin passed away early in their lives. Life is short and there is no need to postpone your dreams. Gavin’s law is – “Live to start and start to live.” In other words,  if you live to start your so called “stupid” idea, you will start living the life you dream.

2. Destroy the waiting place: Life is too short not to start something stupid.

3. Do whatever it takes: Lean into stupid and don’t run away from it. Unsuccessful people run away from stupid because they are afraid of being shamed.

4. Clear the clutter, make room for the dream.

5. To overcome what I call the “Terrible Three”: Fear, Pride and Procrastination. You can then become authentic and be yourself – that will start your upward journey.

Have a great week ahead.