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
Chindogu – solution causes more problems than it solves.
Failed to pitch or communicate well
Not taking the idea far enough
Underestimating cultural limits
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