The Danger of Thinking Big

Many of the world’s biggest thinkers also happen to be the world’s biggest losers.

Now, that might sound odd coming from me, because I have a reputation for thinking big and for encouraging others to do the same. But think about it: Any fool can think big, and most fools do. There’s nothing inherently positive about thinking big; in fact, it can be downright dangerous. It’s what you think about and how you think about it that matters. Of course you want to dream big and have big goals. Most people do. But what are they doing to make those dreams a reality? Nothing.

Let’s be honest here: Most big thinkers are just being delusional, because there’s no way they’ll ever be able to bring their goals to fruition. They have no plan of action to make it happen. You can sit around all day long and dream big dreams, but without a plan of action, you’ll go bankrupt. Despite what some celebrities keep insisting — people who are ALREADY rich, by the way, often because they worked hard for what they have — just wishing for things doesn’t make you successful. You have to couple those big thoughts with a solid game plan for achieving the desired results.

There’s danger in thinking big, but many things in life are dangerous. Simply going into business for yourself increases the chance that you’ll fail… just as living increases your chances of dying. The reality is that the only way you’ll ever succeed big-time is to dream bigger, think bigger, and try to accomplish more than anybody else is willing to. I recommend you read The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz. It shows you how to combine big dreams with the right plan of action. Schwartz’s book is an old one (it was originally published in 1959) but his ideas remain valid.

You don’t get bigger by thinking small. Small thinking generates small results. Sure, sometimes big thinking does lead to bad things; you may experience negative outcomes as you try to grow your business. Life’s never going to be perfect. But you have to dream big anyway… because so many people don’t.

Here’s a story from The Magic of Thinking Big about a chat Schwartz had with a recruiting specialist for one of the nation’s largest industrial organizations at the time. Remember, this was more than 50 years ago. This woman interviewed young people for jobs in her industry as they were preparing to graduate from college. She said that most days, she interviewed 8-12 students, all from the upper third of their class. She wanted to determine through the screening process each student’s motivations for coming aboard, to find out if they were the kind of person who, after a few years and some training, would be able to direct major projects and do big things within the company.

She told Schwartz, “I must say that I’m not too pleased with the personal objectives of most of those that I talk with. You’d be surprised how many 22-year-olds are more interested in our retirement plan than anything else that we have to offer. Their second favorite question is, ‘Will I move around a lot?’ Most of them seem to define the word “success” as synonymous with “security.” Can we risk turning our company over to people like that? The thing that I can’t understand is why young people these days would be so ultraconservative and so narrow in their view of their future. Every day there are more signs of an expanding opportunity in this country.”

Here she was, talking to bright young people ready to graduate from college, people with their whole adult lives ahead of them — and they were worried about security instead of opportunities. What her company was looking for was someone who was hungry, someone with big dreams that went beyond protecting their little nest egg and retirement plan.

That’s really what this principle is all about. Yes, thinking big can lead to negative results. You can lose it all, or you might spin your wheels. But what are you going to do to try to turn your big dreams into reality? Your plan of action is what gets you there. Thinking big is good — but you have to think big and smart.

Con artists on Wall Street and elsewhere like to target wealthy, intelligent people. They tell them they can make tremendous riches by investing their money a certain way, for unheard-of returns. You might think only dumb people would go for that… but dumb people don’t have much money, do they? The con artists know people so well they can sell even a genius a bill of goods. Some, like Bernie Madoff, take in billions of dollars with their scams. That’s caused by people thinking big, but also thinking greedy.

Admittedly, greed is a prime motivator in the marketplace — but it can get you in trouble. When someone says, “Invest a $1 million with me, and next year you’ll have $2.5 million. I’ve done it for others and I’ll do it for you,” that should be a red flag, even in a bull market. You’d think that smart, wealthy people would say, “C’mon now. I know how to get 5-10% annual return on my money easily — but you’re talking about more than doubling my money in a year!” But they still fall prey to these scams.

Even being careful with your big dreams is no guarantee. Many people who dream big and smart still fail. The important thing is not to give up. Some of the world’s biggest successes have failed multiple times. Knock them on their rears 10 times, and they’ll get up 11 times. That’s the kind of big thinker that you need to be; don’t confuse greed with tenacity, because that will lead you straight to disaster.

The Magic of Thinking Big, which I first read 30 years ago, changed my life. It’s still in print for a good reason. I’ve seen a lot of wild-eyed dreamers — I’ve been one myself — and this book can help separate them from the real entrepreneurs, or at least teach the wild-eyed dreamers what entrepreneurship really is.

What separates the dreamers from the doers is a plan of action, and the willingness to stick with it long enough to see it come true.

Develop as many different strategies as you can. It’s nice to dream, but while you’re dreaming you should strategize and create contingency plans for anything that might go wrong. You should be willing to test a lot of different ideas to find out which ones work best, because you never really know what will. You have to factor in all the potential problems, obstacles, headaches, and challenges.

The wild-eyed dreamer always thinks everything will just fall together for them. It very rarely does. That’s magical thinking, and you need to avoid it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *