Top 5 Irrational Happenings of 2019

by Ben Gaddis

Now that it’s 2020, we’re not quite living in the world the Jetsons imagined, but things have gotten pretty interesting. We can arrange for a taxi ride anywhere in mere seconds with the touch of a screen and happily stay in complete strangers’ homes while traveling. It’s this type of nontraditional thinking that led to the creation of Uber and Airbnb, which would have sounded crazy at the start of the decade but are now an intrinsic part of our lives and vocabulary.

Many companies don’t value this out-of-the-box approach and tend to purge their erratic thinkers while continuing to hope for large-scale, disruptive outcomes that will give them an edge. If you want the next big thing, you need to not only think bigger, but more irrationally. Rational thinking leads to the same rational outcomes. In a world where today doesn’t look like yesterday and tomorrow most certainly won’t resemble today, embracing irrationality just might be the most effective course of action.

Here are my favorite examples from the past year of companies that weren’t afraid to think irrationally. They can serve as inspiration for 2020 and beyond.

Tesla Cybertruck: Promoted as having “better utility than a truck, with more performance than a sports car,” the Cybertruck is Tesla’s latest big irrational bet. The predictable approach would have been a slightly improved version of the Ford 150, powered by Tesla. Instead, they launched a vehicle that looks more like a cyberpunk dystopian tank than a truck. They innovated not only the operating system, but the physical form, counting on consumers wanting a vehicle that’s as innovative with its form as its function. Is that bet paying off? So far they’ve received 250,000 pre-orders, and Forbes estimates it could add $4.5 billion to Tesla’s revenue by 2025.

Boyan Slat’s Interceptor: Oceans are historically cleaned by man-powered machines that remove garbage once it’s landed in the ocean. But Boyan Slat is taking a different approach with the Interceptor, the next wave of his Ocean Cleanup program. The Interceptor is a solar-powered system that goes to the source of the trash: rivers. 80 percent of ocean garbage comes from just 1,000 rivers (around 1 percent of total rivers), making this an efficient approach to preventing future ocean pollution. Rivers in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic are up first, with Thailand and LA County, USA, in the pipeline. 

Walmart InHome: Allowing strangers to enter your home when you’re away is about as irrational as it gets. But with the launch of InHome, Walmart’s new grocery delivery program, they’re counting on the lure of convenience beating any initial unease over their employees wandering your halls. InHome partners with smart entry companies Level Home and Nortek Security & Control to gain access to your home or garage with a one-time entry code and deliver your items directly into your refrigerator — eliminating the problem of items sitting outside, unattended and unchilled, for long stretches of time. And if “random person in your home” isn’t wild enough, Walmart upped the irrationality wow-factor by putting live streaming body cameras on their delivery people, eliminating any concern over them lingering or snooping.  

Facebook Libra: It’s been a rocky start for Libra, Facebook’s entry into cryptocurrency. Time will tell what becomes of this particular currency and program, but the larger irrational vision it points to — disrupting the centuries-old banking system — is unlikely to disappear. The splash Facebook made in this space is significant: To face the daunting headwinds from regulators and push forward, despite the challenges, is bold and admirably irrational, even if it doesn’t take off in its existing form. Thanks to Facebook’s pioneering efforts, the center of power in the banking world is in flux, and the door is now open for other companies to think about playing in this space. 

The Return of Retail Stores: Physical retail is dead! Or is it? Yes, malls and brick-and-mortar brands are closing across the country, but why are so many digitally native companies launching retail locations? This “digital first” approach is an irrational inversion of the old model: Instead of the financial risks and customer-reach limitations of a physical store, direct-to-consumer brands are first developing a rapport with the customer online, building its brand cache and reputation, and then — once a following is established — launching physical stores. That in-person experience not only sells merchandise to enthusiastic existing customers and helps acquire new ones, but it also drives those individuals back to their online platform. As of 2019, over 1,700 stores have been opened by digitally native brands like Warby Parker, ThirdLove, Allbirds, Away, Bonobos — and many more. 

These standout examples only scratch the surface of the power of thinking irrationally. Irrationality unleashes limitless, unthinkable possibilities. It can reimagine vehicle design, global issues, customer experience and disruption of long-established industries like finance and retail.

What if more companies and industries embraced this unthinkable kind of mindset? What will you ignite this year?

Ben Gaddis

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