Why Your Great Idea Will Fail

There are a few reasons why your great idea will fail. The main one is that it will fail because it isn’t executed, or it isn’t execute well. We’ve talked about the problems with focusing just on ideas many times before. Last week I read an outstanding post by Matt Perez and realised why this is a problem. Here is one of the key parts from Matt’s post:

As I’ve been saying in several posts, I think it is obvious by now that more and more the future will be dominated by companies that can keep up a consistent stream of innovation. Given the system today, patents are a necessary evil for some industries, but woe to those who focus solely on protecting their one (and only) brilliant idea. Better to spend money and effort in creating and sustaining a culture (and processes and metrics) that makes innovation possible, even disruptive innovations.

As I read this, I realised that the issues with ideas and innovation are a stock and flow problem. When we focus just on compiling ideas, we are working on increasing our stock of ideas. Often, when we do this, we think that more ideas are better.

The problem is that better ideas are better, not more ideas. In order for this to make sense, we need to think about the flow of ideas. This is why I think that Matt’s point about the importance of having an innovation culture and process is so critical. We need to be able to translate ideas into action. That is why tools like the Innovation Value Chain are so effective. It’s not that the model is perfect, or the only tool to use. But it works because it gives us a feel for the way that we process ideas – we need to generate good ones, we need to select the most promising ones to try out, and we need to get our great ideas to spread. We miss a lot of these critical steps if we only focus on building our stock of ideas.

In arguing this point, it is easy to discount idea generation too much. As Harold Jarche points out, we need both stock and flow to make things work. But the most common mistake when firms try to become more innovative is to focus entirely on building their stock of ideas, which is why I think it’s important to emphasise the importance of building a process that facilitates idea flow.

Hugh MacLeod makes this point in a different way in his post today:

Products are idea amplifiers. The molecules and/or bytes are secondary.

This gets at the importance of the last part of the Innovation Value Chain – getting ideas to spread. And it also illustrates the importance of good quality ideas – if everything that we are trying to sell is based on ideas, then quality is clearly important. But at the same time, we have to execute them, and we have to get them so spread.

So your great idea will fail if it is only part of an idea stock. If it’s your one great idea, that you hang onto no matter what, the odds of succeeding are low. On the other hand, if your great idea goes into an idea flow process, then your chances are better. We need “consistent streams of innovation” to win – and for that, we need to concentrate on improving our idea flows, not just increasing our stocks.

(Photo from The Stock Solution Photo Agency under a Creative Commons license, and the cartoon is the latest from Hugh MacLeod’s daily newsletter, which you should subscribe to)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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4 thoughts on “Why Your Great Idea Will Fail

  1. I remember when I was at Microsoft and we were talking some big problem, when someone proposed calling a meeting to brainstorm solutions. The response from the exec in the room was brilliant: “The last thing we need is another f*cking great idea!”

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