Those That Get It Don’t Need It, and Those That Need It Don’t Get It

An innovation paradox

Here’s a central problem with trying to get any new idea to spread – often, those that get it don’t need it, while those that need it don’t get it.

It’s a paradox.

This leads to problems for people that have new ideas.

Problem 1a: you end up talking to the wrong people. It is easiest to talk to the people that get it – even though they don’t need your idea. Back in my startup days, we often went to First Tuesday in Brisbane to try to build our network. We’d talk to all the other local startups about the problems that we shared, and it was great – they really got it!

Did it help us build our business? No. No, it did not.

We were talking to the people that were easy to talk to – the ones that got it. But they didn’t need what we had built. To grow a business we had to talk to the people that needed our ideas. That was a lot harder. It was frustrating, and difficult. Mainly because:

Problem 1b: you might be solving a problem that people don’t yet realise they have. This problem is the opposite of the first one. This makes it really hard to talk to them, because when they hear your idea, they’ll hate it.

When this happens a lot, you’re in what Seth Godin calls the Gulf of Disapproval:

Here’s what he says:

Start at the left. Your new idea, your proposal to the company, your new venture, your innovation—no one knows about it.

As you begin to promote it, most of the people (the red line) who hear about it don’t get it. They think it’s a risky scheme, a solution to a problem no one has or that it’s too expensive. Or some combination of the three.

They need your idea, but they don’t get it.

The key to solving this paradox is to find the small number of people that will get it and that need it. Even for huge breakthrough ideas, this original group is usually pretty small.

These people are the blue line in Godin’s drawing.

Here is how Steve Blank describes them:

Earlyvangelists are a special breed of customers willing to take a risk on your startup’s product or service. They can actually envision its potential to solve a critical and immediate problem—and they have the budget to purchase it. Unfortunately, most customers don’t fit this profile.

Earlyvangelists can be identified by these characteristics:

  • They have a problem.
  • They understand they have a problem.
  • They are actively searching for a solution and has a timetable for finding it.
  • The problem is painful enough that they have cobbled together an interim solution.
  • They have, or can quickly acquire, dollars to purchase the product to solve their problem.


How do we find these people? We start by building a model of who we think they are, and what we think they need. This model is almost certainly wrong. We fix that by going out and talking to these people to learn about the problems that they are actively trying to solve.

Because we’re trying to identify problems, we’re not pitching during these conversations. We’re learning. If we do that enough times, we’ll figure out what a small group of people really need right now, and, with luck, we can build it for them.

People usually can’t explain what they need, especially if the idea is genuinely new. So you need to look for evidence of problems. In my experience, the sign that we’re really onto something is in Blank’s fourth point – when we find people that have already hacked together a solution of their own. This is strong evidence.

It turns out that our two groups of people aren’t mutually exclusive – there’s a small overlap:

When we have a new idea, our job is to figure out what these people need, who they are, and how to find them. Once we’ve done this, then more people will start to get the idea, and more people will also start to need it.

That’s the only way to cross the Gulf of Disapproval.

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

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

3 thoughts on “Those That Get It Don’t Need It, and Those That Need It Don’t Get It

  1. There is a fundamental difference between the two or three if you include those that need it but are scared to do anything about it. The difference is attitude and if one focuses on changing that first. it’s a permanent shift and will accelerate any change. If you’d like to know more about our guaranteed process of behaviour change I’d be happy to discuss further.

  2. This is bang on the money Tim. I have a therapist friend who says exactly the same.

    I have to say, I’m beginning to find online analytical tools do a far better job of telling us what people want than interviewing. Times are changing and the depth / quality of data one can extract from people’s web-based behaviour – especially if you can engage them – is of incredible value…