Scott Painter, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of TrueCar, made a great comment at last year’s innovation event put on by The Economist about how all ideas have a ‘fatal flaw’. But like all great insights, on the surface the audience does not always recognize all of its potential impact on their thinking, and the author of the comment does not always recognize its transcendent ability to simplify and drive impact deep into the broader context of business.
The ‘fatal flaw’ comment was made in the context of entrepreneurs and the rose-colored glasses that they tend to wear when it comes to the warts of their idea. But, if you step back and take a wider view, the same thing about ‘fatal flaws’ can be said of all ideas, not just the ideas of entrepreneurs – take the ideas of innovators for example. Entrepreneurs and innovators share much in common, and successful entrepreneurs are often those capable of transforming useful inventions into valuable innovations.
Now, one thing that we all know to be true is that whether we are talking about the ideas of entrepreneurs or the ideas of innovators, people love to poke holes in anyone’s idea. And, when it is time to look for the fatal flaw of an idea, you have to harness this tendency of individuals, because you want to find the fatal flaw of an idea as early as possible.
The first reason that it is so important to find fatal flaws early is not so that you can strangle every potential innovation or potential new business in the crib, but so that you can make smart investments of your limited resources. We only have so much energy and resources to expend on developing ideas and so you want to cull those that will fail in the marketplace from your portfolio as early as possible, to make it possible for you to invest all your energy and resources into those that have the best chances of succeeding.
The second reason that it is crucial to identify the fatal flaws in ideas early is that often they are harder to see than their benefits, and so you want as much time as possible early on before resources are mobilized and the financial commitments escalate to see whether the fatal flaws can be overcome or not.
So you have to say to yourself:
“Wow, this is a really great idea, what would make this fail in the marketplace. What would prevent this idea from succeeding with customers, and how do we solve for this? Can we solve for this?”
No idea is perfect, and so when you can identify the potential fatal flaws or the high hurdles that have to be overcome, you can challenge them, you can solve for them, you can unleash the passion of your team on trying to find a way around them. And the fatal flaws are always there, and the wise entrepreneur or innovator doesn’t ignore them or assume that they will overcome them at some point in the future, but instead invests energy upfront into both trying to identify the fatal flaws of their idea and into identifying whether they can isolate the solutions – before making further investments of human or financial capital into moving the idea forward.
Timing is a huge key to success both for entrepreneurial ventures and for the development of innovation. Sometimes the time is not right to proceed, and the smart entrepreneurs and innovators can recognize this. Compaq chose not to launch a hard disk based MP3 player because they didn’t have the fatal flaw solution for navigating thousands of songs easily. Corning waited 50 years to launch Gorilla Glass – until there was a big enough market for incredibly scratch-resistant glass – made possible by the smartphone and flat-screen television explosions.
So what’s the fatal flaw of your idea?
Are you ignoring it and pushing forward?
Or are you testing to see if you can solve it, and moving on if you can’t?
This post may also be viewed on the American Express OPEN Forum Idea Hub.
Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.