The Icarus Effect

You’ve probably all heard the song “Carry On Wayward Son” by the group KANSAS. Based on the opening lyrics, some people assume that the song is based on the Icarus story from Greek mythology.

Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion
I was soaring ever higher
But I flew too high

Backstory: Icarus and his inventor father, Daedalus, were being held captive by King Minos of Crete. Their only means of escape would be to fly away like the birds. Icarus and Daedalus fashioned wings of feathers and wax curved to replicate bird’s wings. Before their escape, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the ocean because the moisture would weaken the wings and he might drown. Likewise, Icarus was warned not to fly too close to the sun otherwise the wax would melt and Icarus would perish.  The exhilaration of flight was too much for young Icarus. We all know the fatal outcome of the story.

Though the songwriter, Kerry Livgren, never intended the song to conjure images of Icarus, we can draw some entrepreneurial lessons from the Greek tale.

If you have an idea, go for it

Don’t spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the idea or tossing it around. No one has ever made their fortune by thinking about things; you have to act. Study, do your research, build a prototype, test the market, repeat as necessary until you succeed.

Find a model

Icarus saw the birds flying and wanted to learn to fly. Icarus and Daedalus modeled their wax and feather wings on the wings of the birds they observed. As an entrepreneur, you can learn a lot from the success of others. Don’t copy their ideas lest you become a cheap imitation or knock-off. Observe what works and incorporate that where it makes sense. Observe what doesn’t work and improve it.

Know your limits

Icarus’ downfall – literally – was the fact that he ignored his limits; he flew too close to the sun to where the wax melted, his wings disintegrated, and Icarus fell into the ocean and drowned. Entrepreneurs are famous for trying to take on too much, trying to do everything themselves. As an entrepreneur, you need to know your limits; stick with your strengths (product development, engineering, or sales) and delegate the rest to skilled partners.

Heed the advice of mentors

A lot of young entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking they know it all. They scoff at advice or turn a deaf ear to professionals in the industry. Listen to your trusted advisors. Don’t discount their advice just because it goes against your initial position. Make knowledgeable decisions from a position of strength, not based solely on emotion.

If you are an entrepreneur or just considering spreading your wings, learn from Icarus. Put your ideas into action, know your limits, build on a model of success, and listen to your trusted advisors.


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