Ideas Hatched in a Vacuum…Often Suck.

June 23, 20150 Comments

Bad_Idea_Road_Sign_answer_2_xlarge_vectorizedWe are all guilty of coming up with what we think is a brilliant idea and trying to run fast with it. We are so convinced that our idea is so “White Hot” that we don’t even bother to ask anyone if our idea has actual value. After all, others may not see the “vision” like we do, right? But when our brilliant idea fails (and most do) we seem disheartened. We may even be embarrassed and justify the failure by saying…

“The idea didn’t fail. It was just ahead of its time.”

“We didn’t have enough money to execute this properly.”

“Timing was wrong. We should revisit this in the fall.”

The true reason your idea was dead-on-arrival was because you launched your idea in a vacuum. You forgot your idea had to “click” with AN AUDIENCE. If there is no support (i.e. demand)the idea will always fail. If what you are selling isn’t better or different enough,the idea will fail. If the timing of your product or service is “off” for some reason…it will fail.If you are lucky, the failure is small enough that nobody will notice. If you’re UN-lucky, the failure can be an epic debacle and you will be famous for it.

Right now, I am in Quebec City, Quebec.  I am sitting outside the stunning Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac Hotel. Montreal is 40 minutes away. My view is replete with lovely bistros and art alleys. The neighborhood looks and feels like Paris, France. No wonder. More than 80% of the residents proudly speak French as their first language. You’ve all heard that the province of Quebec has repeatedly tried to become it’s own sovereign country – separate from the rest of Canada. Why? Supporters of the separation movement want to prevent Anglophone assimilation and preserve the French language and the French Canadian culture. But since more than 90% of the other Canadian provinces are English speaking, the “separatists” are in the tiny minority. Since 1980, the separatists have lost six public referendums to break away from the rest of the country. Separation may have sounded like a good idea to a group of French loyalists…but it just didn’t fly. There was no audience for the idea and its ardent proponent, Rene Levesque, will forever be linked to it’s demise.

Our 16th U.S. President, Abe Lincoln, heard a lot of “good ideas” that ultimately failed. Lincoln concluded, “With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” Good ideas need fan support.

The Nike “Air Jordan” shoe launched in 1984 and the NBA banned it because it featured “non-regulation” colors. Michael Jordan ignored the ban and wore the shoes anyway. Public sentiment was so vocally triumphant that the NBA reversed the ban.

29 versions of the Air Jordan later, the shoe still accounts for over $2 billion of Nike’s sales each year.

In my various TV and business careers I have been labeled a “Serial Re-inventor.” I seem to have an endless supply of curious notions. The successes seem to outweigh the failures. When I tried to change the Washington State Song to the rock hit “Louie, Louie” the public was with me.  The effort was rewarded with 288 days of press coverage and a Dubious Achievement Award from Esquire magazine. Yet, when I led a campaign to make “The Mutt” the National Dog of America, the National Kennel Club and the tens of millions of pure breed dog owners thought the idea was sacrilegious. “The Mutt” campaign withered in under two weeks. No fan support. Nobody remembers that campaign because I stopped the effort when it was obvious we couldn’t get traction.

Today, software companies and App developers launch imperfect “Beta” versions because they know their first attempt probably isn’t totally ready. And we accept that. Developers encourage user feedback and will send usupdates; which is fine with us. Failure teaches you the lesson that you can’t (and don’t) know everything.

So, if you have an idea you think will revolutionize your division or propel your company into the Fortune 100, here is how to launch your idea before your budgettakes off on a wild goose chase.

1.  Turn your idea into a written proposal. To the best of your knowledge and research, explain why your idea makes sense. It would either make money or save money. A written proposal shows that you have spent time “thinking this through.”

2.  Give your “proposal” to a handful of people you respect to give you honest feedback. This will give you the chance to hear objections you may not have considered.

3.  If you still want to advance your idea, ask your peers if they would support your idea. The purpose of getting buy-in from peers is so that you can go to The Boss with, “I’ve got something to show you. I think we have an opportunity to make more/save money and  I’ve got the support of Lorraine in Accounting – and Sam in Sales.”

4.  When you make your presentation to The Boss, be confident and enthusiastic. Show The Boss you really care about this. Do your homework and give The Boss a projected R.O.I. of such an idea. Avoid using hyperbole and fantasy numbers. Be realistic.

5.  If  The Boss hedges with, “I just don’t see it.” Ask for a low cost/no cost trial run. Say, “Can we at least see what our audience thinks of this? I’ll make sure we stay under budget andI’ll bring the raw numbers back to you in real time.”

It will be very hard for The Boss to turn down a low risk exploratory test like that. Better yet, you proved that you can perform your due diligence with wise analysis.

From my experience, The Boss’s door is always open to someone who prepares.  You certainly have the edge over the dolt who tries to intercept The Boss in the parking garage with an unsupported, half-baked water cooler pitch.

Ross Shafer is the co-author of the new book, ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY – Bulletproof Tactics for Putting Yourself in High Demand. He is also the author of Nobody Moved Your Cheese, Are You Relevant, Grab More Market Share, and The Customer Shouts Back. Ross is a busy keynote speaker, author, and Emmy winner for his work as a comedian, talk show host, and writer. Learn more about Ross at:

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