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I “took the risk” of going without guaranteed income. I tied my financial fortunes to my own efforts, rather than to the wisdom of senior executives and a prestigious board of directors.(The real risk, of course, was that I’d be thrown in jail for multiple homicide. In comparison to that, self-employment looked like the safest bet.)

Back when I worked in the corporate world, I used to get called naive at least once a week.

I kept treating my employees like adults, instead of like naughty children. Naive. My writing lightened up the stiff, lawyer-crafted language we used with our customers. Naive. I was even dumb enough to occasionally tell the truth at meetings so we had some chance of fixing business-threatening problems. Naive.

Signs of a naive person

Traditionally, being naive is associated with assertions or behaviors that display a person’s inexperience in a particular field or subject. A lack of sophistication and strict adherence to ideals are also signs of a naive person.
Can you see that, when it comes to creative business, naiveté might not necessarily be a negative quality?
In fact, it might be the exact quality that helps someone see opportunities and use ethical sales techniques that other, more “experienced” people overlook or ignore — the winning differences that propel great innovations, great branding, and great marketing.

It’s all invented

I first read Ben and Roz Zander’s extraordinary book The Art of Possibility around the time when I started my first business. I’ve read it many times since then, and I always take away something new. The book starts with a brain-bending chapter: “It’s All Invented.”

Nothing matters more than people

We’re often told that we need to quit working in our businesses so we can work on our businesses … to:

  • Create processes and systems.
  • Ensure our businesses don’t depend on any one individual, including us.
  • Make sure we don’t over-rely on the kind of talented, passionate employees that Seth Godin calls “linchpins.”

Cluelessness can be an asset

Usually styled these days as “uber-successful billionaire, Sir Richard Branson,” Branson spent much of his business life doing things that were entirely clueless.

  • His decision (while still at school at 15 years old) to launch a national magazine instead of focusing on his studies was clueless.
  • Branson’s choice to start a record store when he knew nothing about retail was clueless. This was followed by clueless decisions to build a recording studio, a record label, and then international divisions of Virgin Records. Utterly clueless, every one.
  • His move to start an airline, a tremendously complex and risky business that he knew absolutely nothing about, was impressively clueless.
  • Branson’s penchant for launching businesses just because the names make him smile (Virgin Bride, Virgin Snow) is clueless
  • His vision for the diversification of the Virgin brand to more than 360 companies, without a readily apparent connecting thread like Procter & Gamble or Coke have, is often called clueless.

Naive does not mean stupid

Be careful not to confuse being naive with willful ignorance. This goes back to ignoring the facts. You don’t want to keep working on something that’s … not working. Sometimes you have to stop and try a different way.

Are you naive?

Ever been criticized for being naive? For being “too nice” to be in business? Or lacking the macho blood and guts you need to succeed?