Why Great Ideas Fail
I ran a session at FOO camp ’11 on Why Great Ideas Fail. It was chaotic, but my goal of leaving the room with a list of reasons was achieved – and here it is.
The crowd was tech and start-up heavy, so the list is shifted towards those pursuits. But this could be the start of a book project that more broadly explores the history of great ideas. Starting with fleshing out these categories better, and then finding good stories that illustrate ideas that failed for these reasons, as well as ideas that successfully overcame these challenges.
Meta-comment: Fascinating how many of these are opposite pairs of each other (e.g. gave up too soon, stayed with same idea for too long).
Follow up: If you were there, or not, and want to be updated if this project gets off the ground, leave a comment.
Why Great Ideas Fail:
- Killed idea too soon
- Stayed with idea for too long
- Death (of person with the idea)
- Not knowing target audience
- Not Willing to experiment to find audience
- Unwilling to change direction
- Willful ignorance of economics
- Overcoming organizational inertia
- Not understanding the ecosystem the idea lives in
- Inability to learn from microfailure
- Fighting the last war
- Giving up
- Chindogu – solution causes more problems than it solves.
- Blamed marketing
- Failed to pitch or communicate well
- Not taking the idea far enough
- Underestimating cultural limits
- Underestimating dependencies
- Balancing how world is vs. how world can be
- Balancing Wants vs needs
- Thanks to Val Aurora, I also got a list from attendees of personal reasons great ideas failed. Wide range of levels of specificity, but still interesting,
- Specific failures people listed as their own:
- Forcing something on people they don’t want
- Not controlling distribution (e.g. Tivo vs. Comcast DVR)
- Not doing post-mortems
- Built an Airbnb before Airbnb, but didn’t see it through
- Not eating our own dogfood
- Building something ‘powerful’ but too complicate for the average user
- Voice version of twitter circa 2005
- Force change earlier. It won’t happen on its own.
- Launching a product before it’s ready – unreliable performance
- Not killing a project/startup faster (i.e. spinning wheels for an extra year instead of getting it out the door)
- Trusting before researching
- Not trusting my gut
- Not considering political capital within a large organization
- Trusting my gut too much
- Juggling between being your greatest supporter and your greatest critic
9 Comments » | Posted Tuesday, June 14th, 2011 at 3:48 pm in creative thinking, history, Innovation, Management
Leave a Comment / What do you think?
Marcelo Calbucci - June 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm #
1) What gives an idea the label of “great”?
2) If it failed, wasn’t it likely that it wasn’t a great idea to begin with? In other words, shouldn’t we reserve the “great idea” for the “great idea + great plan + great execution” bucket? I’m not sure I want to separate the idea from the execution because ideas evolve with the execution itself.
Great stuff anyway.
Drew @ Willpower Is For Fat People - June 14, 2011 at 5:46 pm #
“There are trivial truths and great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.” — Niels Bohr
Ramanand - June 14, 2011 at 11:56 pm #
Great list. I tried to group these (35 by my count) up by concepts (subjective tagging) and got these:
C’est La Vie: 1 (the Randomness one)
Organization & Culture: 5
Person Dependence: 1
Quality of Idea: 4
LOL man - June 15, 2011 at 4:25 am #
yeah, same to me :(
christy - June 15, 2011 at 6:14 am #
Interesting difference I observe between the generalized group one and specific/personal group two …
Group one can include one’s own blindness/failings as the reason – eg. didn’t pitch well enough
Group two typically blames everyone but the self eg. not controlling distribution.
This isn’t 100% accurate, but it is very human. When we can talk in generalities it seems easier to allow ourselves to be at fault. If we are asked why our specific and personal project failed, it is very hard to own up to our role in the failure.
Interesting project. I look forward to hearing more.
jer - June 15, 2011 at 11:46 am #
yes please @ Follow up: If you were there, or not, and want to be updated if this project gets off the ground, leave a comment.
Manny @ BestParking - June 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm #
I agree with @Christy that the personal reasons for failure are all too human, i.e., subjective and rarely blames oneself. A lot of ideas here needing more details. In a book, perhaps, Scott?
Kathy Sierra - June 15, 2011 at 8:01 pm #
I second Marcelo (and I think we’ve had this discussion before)… how can we say it was a “great” idea if it failed?
I can see the label “great” for ideas that someone else later DID go on to find success with, but I, too, believe that it’s not always useful to decouple idea from execution.
I guess I would not define an idea as “great” if it wasn’t coupled to how people will be willing and able to use it. I CAN see lots of space for great-except-for-X, where X could be, say, “too soon” or “based on Y, and Y imploded”, etc.
Nice list. Still wish I’d gone to that session.