The Power of Delusion
In the last ten years, I figure I’ve talked to at least 3 people a week with an idea for a startup – that’s 1,560 delusional people eager to manifest their idea into reality. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome these conversations!
When people talk about delusion, they usually mean a mental disorder. But when you are starting a concept and building a company out of thin air, or taking on a new technology like AR, you need to be a little crazy.
At the recent GDEX conference, I shared my belief that delusion boosts key skills for entrepreneurs with a room of game developers. Game developers are some of the most delusional people I know. Unlike creating software for real-life practical solutions, the sky’s the limit when it comes to ideation for games. If a delusion is defined “an idiosyncratic belief that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality”, it’s no problem at all.
Still, I believe that delusion boosts key skills that are needed for startup success. Creativity needs that delusional edge to take ideas beyond the impossible and project beyond the known. Delusional thinking can open our eyes to seeing patterns and put them together as never before. It gives us the kind of audaciousness a true idea champion must have – a single-minded completely confident focus that is blind to barriers of tradition, legacy models or cultural constraints. And there’s no denying, delusional ideas attract attention.
What’s interesting is that these same concepts create a basis for great game design when the game immerses us in the delusion with:
1. Creativity – A major tenant in game design is giving the user power over their character and their world
2. Pattern Matching – giving the user problems to solve, tools and the opportunity master challenges
3. Audacity – instilling a sense of empowerment, courage, even addiction
4. Resilience – building confidence and ego
5. Attraction – enabling leadership and belonging
But although I’ve met thousands of people with great delusional ideas, only 5% of them became actually founders and joined “the struggle”, and less than 3% ended up making a million or more. Why?
Because you have to know how to harness the power of delusion successfully – it’s all in how you go about. Here’s some ideas on how to leverage your delusion:
1. Delusion is merely reality pending in the mind of an innovator. Your idea will happen – or at least it will as long as you continue to care about it or create a system that does that for you.
2. If you feel your idea is obvious, you’re already at a competitive disadvantage. While most innovations are incremental leaps in relation to a known concept, it cannot be something someone else can build. However, delusion can help us pattern match and make the jump to a truly unique idea.
3. Delusions aren’t meant to be perfect – when I meet someone who says they’ve been working on their idea for 3 years I know that’s too long – innovators can get into a loop of constantly seeking validation or fail to back their idea up with real data. You can’t just sniff your own glue all day.
4. Be aware of bias – be audacious, not arrogant. When you pitch your idea, beware of your own bias and that of your audience. Back up your idea with solid data.
5. Limit your zing – ever notice how one great idea spawns a bunch more ideas? Before long your idea has grown huge and your delusional thinking begs you to go-go-go on all of them. This is the time to put some put some constraints in place – pare down your ideas to a manageable few. Choose the low hanging fruit or use rapid prototyping on a few to see what sticks. Set time limits for decision making and be ruthless in measuring KPI’s.
6. Remember that practice makes future – each failure improves our chance of success.
In the game of entrepreneurship, there are side effects to delusional thinking; founders can be blind, stubborn, arrogant and hell-bent to a fault. They can isolate themselves or become lost in an endless loop of examination. In game design, these can actually be goals to increase in-game time.
Delusion for the entrepreneur keeps them going – because if they don’t care about their idea, it will die. Game designers have an opportunity to instill these same feelings in their users – and create a win for both sides.
I maintain there is power in delusional thinking – belief in something that isn’t … yet. All founders are delusional. Delusion, what I call one of the “God gifts”, propels us to audaciously leap forward and innovate – to manifest our own future. From it springs great ideas, great innovation and can bring great success. Properly nurtured, intelligently pursued, your delusion could be our world’s “next”!
by Dan Rockwell, Co-Founder & CEO