Greatness Stems from Dumb and Weird

We’ve become convinced that success often comes disguised as a “dumb” idea—or at least as an idea that may seem “dumb” to others. Paul McCartney perhaps said it best: “It’s not the people who are doing ‘weird’ things that are weird. Bravo. We agree that pioneers and dreamers may be called “dumb” and “weird,” but many of their inventions and creations have changed the world for the better.

In 1976, Anita Roddick’s husband informed his wife and their two children that he had decided to fulfill a lifelong ambition—to ride a horse from Brazil to New York. He figured he would be gone for six to twelve months. Imagine his family’s surprise! Faced with the dilemma of how to support herself and her two children while her husband rode into the sunset, Anita turned to what she knew best—concocting homemade cosmetics, lotions, and oils. Anita opened a tiny shop in the English resort town of Brighton, and the Body Shop was born. Today, there are Body Shops in forty-seven countries.

Kathleen Wentworth went to law school. She succeeded in her chosen path and was a successful prosecuting attorney who aggressively put murderers, pedophiles, and other unsavory characters behind bars. Yet what Kathleen really wanted to do was fly. She signed up for flying lessons and, after getting her pilot’s certification, began to rack up the hundreds of hours needed to become a commercial pilot. Today, Kathleen Wentworth is known as Captain Wentworth. She became the first woman captain for United Airlines.

Twins Jeanne and Jane Ford opened a small makeup store and focused on making problem-solving products that target particular beauty dilemmas. For instance, their top-selling product (over 10 million bottles sold) is Benetint, a rose-hued stain for lips and cheeks that was originally invented for an exotic dancer who wanted something to make her nipples appear pinker! Today, Benefit Cosmetics is nearing the billion-dollar mark in revenue and is known for its quirky packaging and whimsical attitude. so grin and wear it.”

Condi Rice grew up in the segregated streets of Alabama where her father told her: “Even if you can’t order a hamburger and be served at Woolworth’s, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow up and become the president of the United States.” Condi served as the first black woman Secretary of State.

Rose Guilbault was the child of Hispanic migrant workers who made their living picking fruits and vegetables in the California fields. Rose became the first female in her family to attend college and the first Hispanic female TV producer and host.

Mimi Silbert took a thousand dollars, a bunch of Christmas trees, and twenty ex-convicts to begin an experiment that grew into Delancey Street—one of the most successful rehabilitation programs in the world. Running for-profit operations staffed by ex-convicts and former drug addicts, Mimi and her staff are the successful owners of a restaurant, a bookstore, a construction company, a moving company, and, yes, still the best damned Christmas-tree lot in San Francisco.

Kristi Yamaguchi was born with deformed feet. For the first two years of her life, she wore plaster casts and foot braces. As therapy for her feet, her parents enrolled her in dance lessons. But it was ice-skating that captured her heart. As a youngster, she woke up at four every morning to practice on the ice for five hours before heading to school. Ironically, when she was selected to represent the United States at the 1992 Winter Olympics, she was considered the underdog. Kristi won a gold medal.

When these women were devising their dreams, they were often told that their plans were “dumb.” But the dreams they had the courage to follow and realize have made a positive difference in the world—and in their own lives. Do you have a dream that others think is dumb? Have you considered that perhaps your idea may just be ahead of its time? Are people telling you it’s crazy just because it’s not already common? Maybe you are a pioneer who is daring to be the first at something instead of blending in with the pack. Seek out fellow inventors or creative types who will support your innovation instead of sabotaging it.

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