The Naive Question

If we weren’t already doing it this way, is this the way we would start?

This is Paul DePodesta of Moneyball fame asking what he calls “the naive question.” It’s a great question. Very often in business we do things a certain way because that’s the way everybody else does it. That’s the way they’ve always done it. To do it any other way would be crazy (even if it makes more sense).

This is one of the reasons that innovation is hard. Not only do you have to come up with something new, but then you have to convince people to go against the grain. You have to convince them that, just because everyone else isn’t already doing it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

The forward pass in football started out as a novelty. Edison’s electric incandescent lamp research was derided as “a completely idiotic idea” by the chief engineer of the British Post Office. The Wright brothers were accused of perpetrating a fraud for years after the first flight at Kitty Hawk, despite scores of public demonstrations and photographic evidence. Scientific American, the New York Herald, the US Army and countless American scientists refused to believe a heavier than air craft could fly until Teddy Roosevelt ordered public trials in 1908.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote about the four stages of any new idea as follows:

  1. It’s nonsense.
  2. It may be real but it’s not important.
  3. I always said it was important.
  4. I thought of it first!

As investors, one of the hardest and most important things we can do is keep an open mind. Consider data and common sense and weigh them more heavily than tradition and convention.