Forget The Myths: Innovation Isn’t Created The Way Most People Think2 February, 2017 / Articles
If you search for “innovation” or “entrepreneurship,” Google will present you with glowing light bulbs. They obviously represent the “good idea,” the typical mental image of innovation. But actually the myth of the good idea is a misunderstanding. Behind any successful new product or company, the idea is actually the easiest part, and is of little importance, relatively speaking.
Even the entrepreneurial industry (i.e. those whose job it is to cultivate entrepreneurship) are caught up in the concept of the good idea. They talk about idea competitions, idea feedback and idea generation. All this gives the impression that the idea is the most important element to success. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, it’s execution that’s the core of entrepreneurship, whether it’s done by startups or corporate. Successful entrepreneurs and innovators don’t have better ideas than anyone else, but they pursue them more vigorously and actively. They start testing with calling 100 people to hear whether they would purchase this if it existed. They persist when things get difficult. They tweak, alter and listen to market feedback. When we romanticize the idea in itself, we ignore the thousands of hours of work between idea and success. This is a misunderstanding that makes people give in too early.
On the corporate side, I recently worked with a big international media company that had great ambitious for corporate innovation. They hired a team of very talented people and started multiple projects. Two years later, the entire innovation department was scrapped because there were no clear results, and it was still uncertain where the revenue would be generated. Unfortunately, this is the turf of creating innovative products. You can’t see around corners, so you never know exactly where you will end up. This is because market feedback and continuous improvement should be perceived as integral to the process as the original idea. In an organization that’s never worked that way, changing the culture to include that will take time.
Naturally, the idea plays some part in determining success, there is such a thing as a bad idea. But the role of an idea is a flexible starting point, rather than a static anchor. The most effective method to innovate is to identify a problem worth solving, and start from that. This makes space for adjustments based on customer feedback. In fact, many well-known products are born during the learning process of trying to develop something else: 3M’s Post-it Notes stem from their experiments to develop superglue for planes. Viagra was originally a drug for high blood pressure. Listerine mouthwash was created as a cure for gonorrhea and Coca-Cola was a remedy for morphine addiction and should alleviate headaches.
In my work as an entrepreneur, I constantly meet people who have an idea for the next big thing and are just missing an investor and someone to build it. They are devastated when I tell them that hundreds of people will undoubtedly have had the same idea, that you only get an investor after you’ve proven that the idea works, and that there’s typically two years of hard work between today and that date. It actually takes a decade to build an overnight success.
The point is, that if you want to create something new, it requires not only a smart idea, but time, persistence, timing, the right people, and capital to make it happen. The picture Google should show you is a small group of people who persevere after the first 50 things they tried did not work.
While that may seem demoralizing, this is actually good news. This means that there is little reason for you to worry about others stealing your idea. Instead, success is down to your ability to act, your drive and your ability to explore the right audience, price, function, design and timing. There were numerous “book a private room” services before Airbnb, Tesla is far from the first electric car, and Google was not the first search engine. They were just better products, launched at the right time and their execution was world class. And speaking of light bulbs, then, contrary to popular belief, Edison did not invent the first one. He was simply the first to make his popular.