Now that it’s 2020, we’re not quite living in the world the Jetsons imagined, but things have gotten pretty interesting. We can arrange for a taxi ride anywhere in mere seconds with the touch of a screen and happily stay in complete strangers’ homes while traveling. It’s this type of nontraditional thinking that led to the creation of Uber and Airbnb, which would have sounded crazy at the start of the decade but are now an intrinsic part of our lives and vocabulary.
Many companies don’t value this out-of-the-box approach and tend to purge their erratic thinkers while continuing to hope for large-scale, disruptive outcomes that will give them an edge. If you want the next big thing, you need to not only think bigger, but more irrationally. Rational thinking leads to the same rational outcomes. In a world where today doesn’t look like yesterday and tomorrow most certainly won’t resemble today, embracing irrationality just might be the most effective course of action.
Here are my favorite examples from the past year of companies that weren’t afraid to think irrationally. They can serve as inspiration for 2020 and beyond.
Promoted as having “better utility than a truck, with more performance than a sports car,” the Cybertruck is Tesla’s latest big irrational bet. The predictable approach would have been building a slightly improved version of the Ford 150 powered by Tesla. Instead, the company launched a vehicle that looks more like a cyberpunk dystopian tank than a truck. It innovated not only the operating system, but the physical form, counting on consumers wanting a vehicle that’s as innovative with its form as its function. So far the bet has paid off with a reported 250,000 preorders and an estimated $4.5 billion add to Tesla’s revenue by 2025.
Boyan Slat’s Interceptor
Man-powered machines have historically cleaned up garbage once it’s landed in the ocean. But entrepreneur and inventor Boyan Slat is taking a different approach with the Interceptor, the next wave of his Ocean Cleanup program. The Interceptor is a solar-powered system that goes to the source of the trash: rivers. According to Ocean Cleanup, 80% of ocean garbage comes from about a thousand rivers (or around 1% of total rivers), making this an efficient approach to preventing future ocean pollution.
Allowing strangers to enter your home when you’re away is about as crazy as it gets. Walmart’s new grocery delivery program hopes the lure of convenience beats any initial unease over the idea of employees wandering your halls. InHome partners with smart-entry companies Level Home and Nortek Security & Control to gain access to your home or garage with a one-time entry code to deliver your items directly into your refrigerator—eliminating the problem of items sitting outside, unattended and unchilled for long stretches of time. Walmart also upped the wow factor by putting live streaming cameras on their delivery people to ease any snooping concerns.
It’s been a rocky start for Libra, Facebook’s entry into cryptocurrency. Time will tell what becomes of this particular program, but the larger out-of-the-ordinary mission of disrupting the centuries-old banking system is unlikely to disappear. The splash Facebook made in this space is significant. To push forward despite the daunting headwinds from regulators is bold and admirable, even if Libra doesn’t take off in its existing form. Thanks to Facebook’s pioneering efforts, the center of power in the banking world is in flux, and the door is now open for other companies to think about playing in this space.
ThirdLove, Warby Parker and others’ stores
While malls and brick-and-mortar brands are closing across the country, so many digitally native companies are launching retail locations. This digital-first approach flips the old model upside down. Instead of facing the financial risks and customer-reach limitations of a physical store first, direct-to-consumer brands begin developing a rapport with the customer online, building its brand cache and reputation, and then—once a following is established—launch physical stores. The in-person experience not only serves and sells to enthusiastic existing customers but also helps acquire new ones. Additionally, those acquisitions drive more people back to their online platform. Last year, digitally native brands like Warby Parker, ThirdLove, Allbirds, Away and Bonobos opened over 1,700 stores.
These standout examples only scratch the surface of the power of thinking irrationally. Irrationality unleashes limitless, unthinkable possibilities. It can reimagine vehicle design, global issues, customer experience and disruption of long-established industries like finance and retail.
What if more companies and industries embraced this unthinkable kind of mindset? What will you ignite this year?