Just Crazy Enough To Work

“That’s just crazy enough to work!” The Hell does that mean? How can any amount of irrationality or delusion help you to accomplish something? This is a meme, and like most memes it’s stupid when applied literally, but also like most memes it’s a shorthand reference to a more complicated idea. Unlike most memes, it’s old as Hell, so you can’t track down the origination of the meme to a 4chan thread from 2008, whose context will make the meme’s meaning immediately obvious.

What I suspect the meme’s origins might be is the answer to the old story of two economists walking down the road when they see a twenty dollar bill on the street. The younger economist bends over to pick it up, but the older economist says “don’t bother. If there were money just lying on the street, someone would’ve come and picked it up already.” Although the older economist is clearly wrong in this story (that’s, y’know, the joke), he’s usually right, which is why the idea that any good idea would already be in use was dominant in economics for a while (it isn’t anymore, which is why the story is about an old and young economist, and not an economist and, like, a plumber or something). Generally speaking, if you think you see an easily exploited opportunity, you’re missing something and are wasting your time and resources when you try to jump on it. If the opportunity were really that obvious and that easy to take advantage of, everyone would already be doing it, like how everyone uses email for business purposes. People who refuse to do that are at a disadvantage because the benefits of email are so obvious and easily accessible that it’s common practice. If you see a business opportunity that’s as easy and straightforward as using email, you have to ask yourself: Why isn’t everyone already doing this? Occasionally the answer is that someone left a twenty dollar bill on the street and you’re lucky enough to be the first person to wander by, but nine times out of ten, the old economics maxim holds true: If it were a good idea, businesses would be doing it already.

Yet that’s obviously not true all the time, or else no one would ever be able to get ahead through innovation. So how can you tell that your idea is actually an untapped opportunity and not a dead end? When it’s just crazy enough to work. That means it’s not so crazy as to be obviously impossible (i.e. it’s not an Underpants Gnome business plan), but it’s still crazy enough that you might plausibly be the first person to have thought of it. Figuring out exactly how crazy an idea has to be to thread that needle is obviously not an exact science, but the meme still helpfully refers to the general idea. Or at least it used to. Maybe.

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