Back in the 1990s, Linda Rottenberg was known as “la Chica Loca,” the Crazy Girl. This was when she was building her company, Endeavor, which supports entrepreneurs around the world. But far from taking offence, Rottenberg embraced the nickname, reflecting: “If you’re not being called crazy, then you’re not thinking big enough.”
Her new book, “Crazy is a Compliment,” expands on this idea. Subtitled “The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags,” it draws on her decades of experience of supporting innovators and is packed with advice. Perhaps most importantly, it makes the case for innovation, whatever your job and whatever your circumstances.
“Everyone today has to take some risk or risk being left behind, and the only thing that we know is constant in this world today is change and chaos, for lack of a better word,” Rottenberg tells me in our Expert Interview podcast. “There are no stable companies, there are no stable economies, and there are certainly no stable jobs… Everybody today has to shake themselves up, shake up their business or their company, if they’re going to get ahead.“
This doesn’t mean reinventing yourself as the next Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos. Or, as Rottenberg puts it, “You don’t need a hoodie to be an entrepreneur.” You don’t even need to start your own company. Plenty of so-called “intrapreneurs“ zig against the zag to good effect within their organizations.
From her experience, Rottenberg says innovators fall into four broad categories: gazelles, who are fast-moving and high-jumping entrepreneurs with big dreams and boundless energy; skunks, who are intrapreneurs making change within their organizations; dolphins, who are innovators in the non-profit and public sectors; and butterflies, who are small-scale entrepreneurs like yoga teachers, designers and plumbers.
Whichever group you relate to, your goal will be the same: to see your Big Idea come to life. But how can you know that it’s even viable? It’s all very well zigging when everyone else zags, but what if the zaggers are right? Doubts like this can kill innovation, so I asked Rottenberg if there’s any way of finding out if you’re on the right track. La Chica Loca’s answer was characteristically balanced and practical.
“I do think there are some ideas that are either ahead of their time or just bad ideas,” she says. “But today more than ever it’s actually easier to focus test your idea, your product, because of the rise of social media and the internet… If you put your idea up on Kickstarter and no one is funding it, then maybe that tells you something.”
For intrapreneurs, her advice is to test your idea quietly, on a small scale, before going to your boss. After all, you’re more likely to get company support if you can prove your idea works. The same applies to support from friends and family.
“Going to your closest friends, your closest family, your closest colleagues, your bosses, maybe is not the best place to start. Those are the people who are probably going to be most conservative and most likely to shut down your idea,” she counsels. “But I do think that the internet, social media, the people who are ‘friends,’ the people on crowdfunding platforms, people at the farmers’ market, people in other departments of our companies [can be helpful]. There are a lot of ways now to market test ideas with very little money and not that much time.“
In “Crazy is a Compliment,” Rottenberg underlines the value of mentors as you press ahead with a new idea. In this audio clip from our Expert Interview podcast, she redefines mentoring for the 21st century and offers tips on how to get a mentor on board.