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A bright light should not be kept under a bushel basket. It should be able to shine its light and cut the darkness. A worthless light will only confuse those in the dark, and cause them to curse the darkness. I am not certain what consequence that cliche has to do with this article, but I liked the light bulb, as it seemed to shed some light on my recent thinking (pun intended).
That said, a few months ago I wrote an article called, Ideas for Ideas for the Entrepreneur (the over-caffeinated entrepreneur blog), but after additional thought and reflection, decided to augment the article with the following recommendations. The buzz word Innovation gets so much play, that I thought some additional effort toward this topic made sense.
“Innovation is our mission” is a term that has been used so much this past couple of years that it now falls on deaf ears. Company after company, entrepreneurs and emerging enterprises, Fortune 500 firms and multinational corporations are all touting innovation stations. You know, those warm and fuzzy rooms with just the right lighting, a snack bar, Foosball table, ping pong table and cuddly easy chairs, placed there Feng Shui style to allow the creative juices to flow? Do they work? Probably not so much.
As a bit of a refresher course, I’ll quickly highlight the gist of my original article. I mentioned the method I use for creating team-building games and activities to generate ideas, using dice or a deck of cards, along with a list of nouns and verbs. Once the lists are developed by the group’s individual contributions, the dice are rolled or the cards are cut to match up a noun with a verb. The following tasks result in the development of the list of ideas generated by putting these two words together into some activity, service, activity or concept.
I don’t mean to say that this is the only way to generate new product ideas, but it is a method to get the dialogue started. If true innovation is the goal, relentlessly going after that goal should not be dissuaded by any reason to not do so. Thinking that innovation will result in higher profits is short-sighted, with a hint of greed. Sure, profits would be nice, but the profits will come if you perfect your innovation to a product (or service) that truly answers the market’s needs the best, at a price the market deems reasonable or presents enough value.
There aren’t many entrepreneurs out in the marketplace that don’t want to be the next best thing to come out of innovation incubators. Typically, there are a laundry list of great ideas the come from great minds getting together toward a common goal, but seldom to they actually evolve into billion dollar wonders. I don’t know the statistics, but one out of a whole bunch of ideas ever makes it big. Does that make sense? I think not so much. What’s wrong with a dozen good ideas that make a difference, generate buzz, improve operations or grow modest revenues? Must an idea win the Derby first time out of the gate? There are a great many billion dollar companies that didn’t throw positive cash for several years in the beginning, but that didn’t prevent the owners/creators from pressing forward.
Paralysis by Analysis
Research all you want, but at some point you have to pull the trigger. What-if scenarios help during the due diligence phase, but eventually, as my grandfather used to say, “you have to fish or cut bait.” By no means do I mean that you run out and invest every dollar you have into an idea at the first pass, but over time, you have to decide if the idea has merit. My grandfather also used to say, “if you don’t have the nerve, you are merely meant to serve.” I believe the translation is – if you don’t possess the leadership, you are just another sheep; no guts, no glory. Risks are inherent in business, and innovation is risky, because there is money spent that may not turn into the next blockbuster, or even a winner. The most difficult part of a thousand mile journey is the first step, but if you never take it, you will end up nowhere. Market research is time sensitive and costly, but if you don’t perform it, you may be guessing at what might work, and what won’t. There are numerous facets of market research that come into review. From competition to market need, demand versus supply, and perceived need and reality. Don’t get too bogged down in market research; sooner or later you are going to have to make a decision to move forward or switch gears and drop the idea.
Have you ever experienced an epiphany and believed you thought up an idea that would rock the world, only to find out that somebody beat you to the punch? I have personal experience on two completely different products, and was shocked and surprised to find they became realities, but not with me.
My Scar Tissue Examples: My brother in-law and I were in a rowboat on a family vacation early one morning, when the discussion made its way into fishing and our young children. This was back in the days when Gummie Bear candies first came on the market (it was a long time ago). We bounced ideas back and forth, laughing at how outrageous some of them were. We laughed so loud that a boater nearly 500 yards away shushed us. We couldn’t help it; what we were coming up with were funny. It’s a bit of a location story (you had to be there) but it boils down to this:
“What if we made Gummie Worms, put them in Oreo Cookie Crumbs, and sold them by the dozen in cottage cheese type containers? An entirely edible product down to the cookie crumbs. Kids could have fun pretending while dad fishes, and eat their toy. Dads take their kids fishing all the time, and if you have ever been in a bait shop, there isn’t much for a little kid in there. With Dad purchasing live bait, like minnows and night crawlers, our idea seemed like a good one at the time. With these impulse items on the counter next to the register, sales could conceivably skyrocket. That was the nature of our thinking. We could call them Bucket Buddies Gummie Bait.” We laughed until both of us threatened wetting our pants. Of course nothing was done by either of us regarding this idea; we were busy with our lives in corporate America. Within a year or so, to our dismay, we noticed someone either heard us laughing or thought up the same thing. We missed our opportunity.
Remember when somebody came up with a plush doll dressed like a football referee, and his arms and legs were attached to the torso by Velcro? Every time you didn’t like a call the ref made, you could punish the ref by tearing off a limb. My friend called me with an idea and asked me to invest with him on what he felt was a terrific novelty item. “You know how the TV Referee is marketed to take out your frustration at the bad calls you witness while watching a sporting event? I’ve come up with something even better.” As an explanation, this doll was soft with a ref’s uniform shirt of black and white stripes. My friend was obviously overcome with dollar signs in his eyes, as he dreamed how to produce the item, market it and make a quick million. He insisted he never saw anything like this item sold anywhere, and knew in his heart he dreamed it up when he first called me. “I want to create the TV Brick! You know, when you get upset with something on the television, you can hurl a foam brick at the TV. There can be two sizes, the red house brick, and the industrial, Concrete Block size.” He was out of his mind with excitement. I thought he was nuts. That very season, I found his item on clearance sale at a department store. The TV Brick was from a company in the UK, sold in America, and made in China. It had been on the market for more than two years, had run its course, so the retailer deeply discounted their inventory to make room on the shelf for new items. My friend was deeply depressed. Too bad; so sad.
My point is – ideas are constantly floating around the universe, and unless there is action on them, they are of no value whatsoever. If you fail to act on your ideas, you bear the complete consequences for your inaction. Mind you, some ideas don’t deserve to be enacted on, while others can generate millions. Neither of these examples will change the world, solve hunger or become the next Pulitzer Prize Idea, but an idea just the same.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short, or Put Yourself on a Pedestal
You know much more than you may think, and that can be both a good thing and a detractor. The longer you have been in an industry, the greater the knowledge base. That’s great when faced with a routine problem; you have a knowledge base to solve almost anything. The issue is thinking you can do anything; regardless of your knowledge base. Don’t allow your ego to overload your capacity to accomplish something.
One of the tips toward keeping yourself and your team in check is to “Red Team” your research, findings and proposed idea planning. Disinterested third parties; those without any preconceived notions neither regarding the pros and cons of your ideas, nor possess any potential outcomes from the idea make perfect research evaluators. If the response does not impact them whether they agree or disagree, you should get an unbiased evaluation, which you can determine the next step.
Look at Everything With a Critical Eye
Just because you came up with the idea doesn’t mean that it is a good one; that you know best or your decisions are final. Stay humble, open to suggestion and review each step in the process, each milestone and every interaction as though it meant success or failure at any given moment. If you don’t move cautiously, and rush to conclusions without interaction and critique from others, your idea may not turn out as successful as you want. Use the people you have gathered around you as critical components of the process from start to outcome. A team effort is always better than a single person’s viewpoint.
Here’s to Innovation!