Mad Genius: A Manifesto for Entrepreneurs

Mad Genius: A Manifesto for Entrepreneurs

by Randy Gage

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Create your next breakthrough

Mad Genius is a unique book for entrepreneurs--and for employees who want to think like entrepreneurs. It will help you unleash the innate creative genius inside you.

Every industry has its sacred cows and accepted practices. These are often based upon foundational premises that are no longer valid--if they ever were.

There's a reason Facebook was birthed in a dorm room, came from people not in the bookstore business, and UBER was created by people who weren't from the taxi industry.  Innovation, discovery, and creating disruption require blowing up conventional thinking and unleashing your entrepreneurial brilliance.

Mad Genius is a fire hose of creative stimulation that will spark breakthrough ideas and show you how to nurture them.

Get ready to think different. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698198654
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/19/2016
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 863,979
File size: 469 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Randy Gage is a thought-provoking critical thinker who will make you approach your business--and your life--in a whole new way.  Randy is the author of ten books translated into twenty-five languages, including the New York Times bestseller Risky is the New Safe. More important, he is an entrepreneur and angel investor whose passion is starting and growing businesses.

Randy has spoken to more than two million people across more than fifty countries and is a member of the Speakers Hall of Fame. When he is not prowling the podium or locked in his lonely writer's garret, you'll probably find him playing third base on a softball field somewhere. 

Read an Excerpt




What is it about genius that tortures so many who possess it? A Mad Genius if ever there was one, Hunter S. Thompson was asked how he created his unique brand of brilliance. His reply was inspired, if a little unnerving: “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

I wish I could say the muse for this book was a sudden inspiration of genius, but it was actually germinated in an environment of shame and wretched despair.

Shame because I was lying around my apartment, trying to throw off the aftereffects of a binge relapse with crystal meth—an addiction I had thought was long conquered.

And despair because the euphoria of the high (which gets less euphoric every time) was replaced by the exhaustion, nausea, and depression of the crash. Among meth addicts, these days are called “suicide Tuesdays” for reasons you can probably imagine.

Now if you think that seems like a less-than-opportune environment to foster creative genius, you’re only half right. Because sometimes it is when we are at our lowest state, facing our most difficult challenges, that we pull ourselves together, marshal our resources, and decide that the alternative to hopelessness is actually hope after all.

You’ll find this as a recurring theme in this manifesto: Why no is never the answer, failure isn’t final unless you quit, and how challenges offer the greatest opportunities for innovation and creation.

Obviously this relapse was one more chapter of the twisted hero’s journey my subconscious mind felt necessary to create for myself—to overcome my own insecurities and worthiness issues.

The good news is that I really believe this won’t happen again. Sometimes you just know when you’re done. I felt that way after I took my last drink on my twentieth birthday, and thirty-five years later, have never had the desire for another one. And just as I felt my life worked better without alcohol in it, I now feel that recreational drug use doesn’t enrich my life but destroys it. So I chose life.

But I also had that unnerving pang . . .

Could I still write or would the goddess of creativity abandon me at the altar? Would I still possess the gift to recognize opportunities and build entrepreneurial ventures?

I grew up watching creative geniuses like Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison blaze brilliantly, then die of overdoses. And I idolized writers like Hemingway, Poe, Kerouac, O. Henry, and Thompson, who all viewed drugs and alcohol as necessary ingredients for their creative genius—or at least helpful to medicate the issues preventing them from achieving it.

Fortuitously, I read On Writing, the brilliant memoir of the craft from Stephen King, who recounted his ability to face down his own addiction demons and still create. I began to think a look at genius—and how we harness, nurture, and direct it—would make a fascinating book. And even more intriguing, would be an exploration specifically of how the mindset of the entrepreneurial genius works.

As I was reading up on the links between creativity and mental illness, I found a Wikipedia entry that stated, “Psychotic individuals are said to display a capacity to see the world in a novel and original way, literally, to see things that others cannot.”

Now, entrepreneurs are not psychotic, of course. We simply display a capacity to see the world in a novel and original way, literally, to see things that others cannot.

Oh, wait . . .

As entrepreneurs, we’re hardwired to shake things up, live by our own set of rules, and, most importantly, create new things. Our greatest genius comes in the creation part.

That’s the reason we watched the Steve Jobs product launches with breathless anticipation, we care more about the commercials than the Super Bowl, and we’re almost giddy when we come across a Kickstarter campaign for a sexy new gadget. We’re witnessing genius in action.

I pondered all this while watching Before Night Falls, the magnificent film that was based on the stunning book by Reinaldo Arenas. One genius showcasing the gifts of another. When you’re exposed to a film or book like these, you can’t help but want to create something amazing. Something that makes a difference.

So this manifesto comes to you from one of the lowest points in my life but, I hope, leads us both to reaching something much higher: harnessing your Mad Genius—and sharing it with the world. I hope you’ll join the discussion on social media, using the hashtag #MadGenius.

You’ll find this manifesto divided into three sections: Book One is a look at how we got to where we are now. How the convergence of bad premises, negative memes, and herd thinking infected our consciousness and allowed us to accept mediocrity. Book Two explores some of the earth-shattering, cataclysmic developments we will be facing in the upcoming decade. We’ll peek around the corner, predict the future, recognize the inherent challenges in that future—which will reveal to us the greatest opportunities. And finally, Book Three is a chaotic collection of mind-bending, thought-provoking ideas to force you to think about what you think about. Read whatever section you need at the point you need it. But know that there is one constant in all three sections: the real-world truth about how you have to think to become a successful entrepreneur.

Inspirational business book authors may claim to play different tunes, but most of them are singing the same song of ever-growing success. The case studies all seem to follow the same template: A couple college kids with nothing but empty beer cans and pizza boxes littering their dorm rooms have a big idea. They drop out of school, set up shop, and become an overnight viral sensation. They get to choose from a swarm of VC investors who desperately want to throw money at them, ignore calls from Zuckerberg, float an IPO, become billionaires, and grace the cover of Wired.

Some of the readers who buy those books must wonder what they’re doing wrong. In the real world of business, though, there are both breathtaking breakthroughs and soul-wrenching failures. It’s a world with fears and doubts, sweating to make payroll, scrambling to raise money, struggling to stand out. I’m here to tell you that getting on top and staying on top is never a sure thing. But if you’re willing to do the work and pay the price—success is attainable. It’s never easy, but it’s worth it.

—Randy Gage
San Diego, California








Put yourself in this picture:

We were on Mo’orea, in French Polynesia (often known as the Tahitian Islands), at a luxury resort where the bungalows are suspended over the water with a hatch in the floor so you can feed the fish underneath. There were ten of us seated around a conference table loaded with tropical fruit, fresh-squeezed juice, and coffee. The morning sun was streaming in, the weather was sublime, and the environment was perfect for a brilliant brainstorming session.

The other nine people had paid $15,000 each and flown thousands of miles to have a three-day mastermind retreat with me. I began the session by going around the table, asking everyone to summarize the one big concept they would like to strategize during the retreat.

The first guy said he wanted to do a complete makeover of his website. The second person said she needed help with a title for her next book. The third person mentioned that he wanted some input on his next direct-mail campaign. It went on like this until it came back around to me. But before we go any further, if you really were around that table in Mo’orea right now—what would you say? Take a minute and really think about it.

Because here’s what happened next.

I closed my eyes, took a slow, deep breath, and said, “I’m going to the fucking pool now. When you guys decide you want to actually have a mastermind and go after a big idea, then somebody come and get me.”

Not sure what was said next, but after about ten minutes, one sheepish attendee came out and asked if I would rejoin the group.

So what happened?

Herd thinking happened. Like so often occurs in many situations, the person going first set the tone and everyone who followed unthinkingly shadowed the pattern. Of course, the interesting dynamic in this case was that these nine people were not random souls picked up at the bus stop. They were all hypersuccessful, multimillionaire entrepreneurs who had invested a lot of money and time to be there to discover their next breakthrough.

You probably think they wouldn’t fall prey to such disempowering thinking. But how did you reply to the question above? Was your answer really a big, bold, and breathtaking concept you wanted to mastermind on—or did you also default to some mundane tactic?

Even high achievers are not immune to being infected with herd thinking when they’re members of a group. You’ll see the same scenario if you start a meeting by asking people to go around the room giving their name and title, so everyone knows who’s who. If the first person says, “Aldo Gonzalez, VP of quality control,” everyone follows suit, your objective is accomplished, and you get down to work.

However, if the first person says, “Thanks, it’s so great to be here. My name is Mary Marcus and I flew here from the Toronto division. My hobbies are embroidery and stamp collecting, and I’m really excited to be at this conference because I was just telling my sister last week that . . .”—you immediately know you’re screwed. The intros you budgeted for five minutes will actually eat up twenty-five minutes of the ninety minutes you have.

The herd doesn’t always follow the leader. Sometimes they simply follow whoever speaks first.

These examples illustrate a very important lesson about our thought processes, showing how we often go on autopilot and waste the amazing brainpower we possess.

In the case of the South Pacific retreat, the first person made a mistake in his thinking—a mistake many other entrepreneurs fall prey to: believing success to be about the tactics. But the genuinely important stuff is never about the tactics—it’s actually about the big idea. When you get the big idea right, the tactics become readily apparent.

To truly harness your Mad Genius, you have to resist the urge to begin with tactics. You must first step back and do some critical thinking: What is the desired outcome here? Who is the real target market? What are the actual benefits for the people in the target group? What’s the big idea? What is the story that will communicate the big idea?

Very few entrepreneurs and, shockingly, even very few large, successful companies take the time to really do this. For evidence, look no further than the literally billions of examples of horrible marketing we churn out, week after week.

No matter what kind of business you’re in—sales and marketing are the engines that drive it. Every entrepreneur (and every manager who wants to think like an entrepreneur) has to at least be cognizant of what good marketing is and isn’t. Yet it’s alarming how many entrepreneurs—many of whom are bright, bold, and innovative—lose their ability for critical thinking, discernment, and even rationality when it comes to marketing. Many are totally ignorant of the subject, fobbing it off on someone else in their organization, if they are able to, or else an outside ad agency, hoping for the best.

The amount of dull, ineffective, and just plain ridiculous advertising out there is mind-numbing. Even worse, the biggest offenders are some of the largest brands in the world. You would think with huge creative teams and even bigger budgets, they’d be delivering a compelling, benefit-centered message, targeted to their best prospects. But if I have learned one universal truth about marketing, it is this:

The bigger the budget, the more stupid shit will be green-lighted.

A perfect example of this is beer advertising. A massive market, with billions of dollars spent in this category. Which means you’ll see some of the most insipid, off-target, and downright wasteful advertising anywhere. (Although you have to give Anheuser-Busch creative points for having the chutzpah to promote themselves as “America’s local brewery,” since these days the multibillion-dollar conglomerate is actually owned by Belgian company InBev.)

We don’t want to scan a code to see who was working on the assembly line the day our beer was bottled. And if your unique selling proposition is a wide hole in the top of the can—you probably should go back to the well and try again. Likewise if you think the most exciting thing about your beer is that I can punch an extra hole in the can with a can opener so the beer flows faster. Seriously? Can you imagine sitting in on the creative meeting where the big idea for the campaign was one of these?

Or how about the meeting where they had the brilliant concept to shape the can like a keg? And how many beer drinkers do you think were lying awake at night, wishing their beer can would change colors to tell them if it was cold? Can’t you tell that when you’re holding it?

All of these multimillion- and multibillion-dollar campaigns miss the mark because they were created with a tactical approach instead of first finding the big idea. And, of course, when you’re really brilliant, the big idea will be centered not around the amazing features of your product or service but around the amazing benefits it provides the customer.

It’s just human nature that when we’re asked to market something, we default to listing its features. If I give you a widget to sell, it seems logical to describe its color, its size, and the materials it’s made of. But do that and you’ve fallen prey to herd thinking. No one really cares about the features of your drill bit; they just want a hole in their wall.

You have to go the next step and think about exactly what the widget will do for the prospect: the delightful joy it will bring her when she gets it or the cataclysmic consequences she will suffer if she doesn’t buy it.

The big idea should be the thing that grabs attention, attracts the tribe, or speaks directly to the prospect, but in the context of the benefit to her.

It should be the mechanism in the copy platform that pulls things together, creates the story arc, and pulls the prospect through the message to reach the desired conclusion.

It’s great if you have Kevin Durant in your Sprint commercial. But with no big idea, it’s just him talking to a goofy kid in a tree house dream sequence and has no relation to the message of the campaign. It’s almost as pointless as the millions of dollars that beef jerky company spent on their nonsensical “messing with Sasquatch” commercials.

The fact your car has a push-button start is not a big idea to base a campaign on. Neither is the fact that your minivan has a foot-activated hatch. These hint at potential benefits, but they’re still just minor features and certainly not important enough to base entire campaigns on, which several automakers have done.

Going back to Sprint, over the last few years they’ve had some of the craziest and questionable advertisements as any major brand. Remember those commercials with James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell dramatizing text messages? The first one was clever and showed some potential. But then they got downright creepy. And creepy is way too kind a word to describe the “framily” campaign they were running as I was writing this, featuring a family with a French-speaking daughter and a father played by a gerbil in a fishbowl with a Yiddish accent. WTF! What I wouldn’t have given to be in that creative meeting and hear the logic behind that.

Sometimes the big idea is little.

I was working out at my gym the other day when I noticed one of the physical therapists there had set up his massage table in the middle of the gym and leaned a whiteboard against it, where he had written simply:


How’s that for intriguing the prospect, grabbing attention, and creating a compelling headline?

Turns out his name is Ryan and he specializes in assisted myofascial release. I asked what it could do for my herniated disc, hoping to prolong my legendary (in my own mind at least) softball career. Ryan suggested he might be able to release some tension around the disc that was causing pain to radiate down my legs and offered to test some techniques on me. He did a ten-minute treatment, after which I immediately signed up for a series of five sessions at $95 each.

You may be thinking that Ryan’s whiteboard and free sample idea won’t scale for a big business like yours. But I bet with a little critical thinking you could find a way to adapt something similar. (And I’ll wager Ryan booked more real business as a result of his zero-cost, two-hour campaign than Sprint booked with $5 million worth of their talking gerbil commercials.) Even if you can’t replicate what Ryan did, you can build your marketing around a prospect-centered, benefit-driven platform. And you can have a big idea or theme that pulls everything together.

Of course, marketing is just one of many areas in which you can fall victim to herd thinking. It’s just as easy to disengage your critical thinking gear when evaluating potential markets, assessing new opportunities, and developing innovative products and in lots of other areas. The good news is once you really develop your Mad Genius, you’ll stop falling into habitual thinking and always approach every situation as a critical thinker, seeing possibilities instead of believing in . . .


Ask any hundred people what the opposite if success is, and ninety-nine will probably answer, “Failure.” But that’s the big lie.

The real opposite of success is not failure but mediocrity.

Not only is failure not the opposite of success, it is actually an integral and necessary element of success. There has never been a goal worthy of achieving that didn’t warrant some failures along the way. In fact, the greater the chance and degree of failure, the more astonishing any potential achievement can ultimately be.

Failures are not dead-end outcomes. (Unless you quit, and then you’ve ended the story.) The entrepreneur who doesn’t make mistakes doesn’t make anything. The fastest way to a disruptive breakthrough today is experimentation and failing fast.

Failures are simply momentary challenges. When you persevere through them, these challenges become the stepping-stones to your success. They allow you to learn lessons, modify strategies, and develop the necessary character to become a successful entrepreneur.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A big and brave kickstart for anyone set to make their entrepreneurial dreams come true.”
—Robin Sharma, #1 bestselling author of The Leader Who Had No Title

“This book is f*cking great! Teaches not only a mindset, but gives people hope, and inspiration, and challenges them at the same time. I love every part of it.”
—Larry Winget, author of Grow a Pair and five other international bestsellers

“This life-changing book is loaded with practical, proven ideas and questions that will help you kick open the door to all the success you want.”
—Brian Tracy, author, The Power of Self-Confidence

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