I love the TV show Dragon’s Den (called ‘Shark Tank’ in the USA). It showcases some amazing entrepreneurs who have developed breakthrough innovations, have established a business, and just need some capital to help the business grow. But occasionally, some of the budding entrepreneurs have an idea which everyone can see is just terrible. Well, everyone apart from them.
It is one of main reasons why so many small businesses fail early on, and even why many large companies come out with a new product or service which they truly believe is going to blow away the competition, only for potential customers to shrug their shoulders with indifference.
The fundamental lesson boils down to the differences between having an idea, invention or innovation. Ideas are new concepts that haven’t been actualised or made into something tangible. I like to say that ideas are priceless, since they may be turned into something immensely valuable when implemented but are worthless until then. Inventions are ideas which have actually been made real, and to some degree shown to work as intended. (We’ve all seen inventions which aren’t perfected yet. One of the best examples is a parachute designed by Franz Reichelt, who demonstrated it by jumping off the Eiffel Tower. Let’s say he didn’t survive to improve on the fact it didn’t work…) The difference between inventions and innovations are that innovations directly address the challenges which a customer or user would have in a valuable way. They are solutions to a problem. Inventions are sometimes new things without a market which sees the value in them. In essence, they are a solution which are looking for a problem.
Ideas are priceless, since they may be turned into something immensely valuable when implemented but are worthless until then
One of the issues is that the inventors of these “bad” inventions often either don’t realise there is not a market for their product, overestimate the size of the market, the resources required to address the market’s needs or competition which they can’t overcome. However, one of the most dangerous reasons these entrepreneurs often continue on a path when they are getting no traction is they are blinded by the value they place on ‘their’ product which nobody else does. Because they think it was a good idea, they expect other people to see it in the same way. Harmfully, these people often tend to ignore negative feedback / constructive criticism and only listen to positive feedback, from family or the few people who have actually chosen to be a customer. Without accepting feedback to change and refine an idea from just an invention to address the issues people are informing them of, it’s unlikely to become a sustainable innovation.
To better showcase how dangerous this is, here are what I consider to be the five worst inventions every pitched to Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank:
5. Laylines – A bedsheet with a line down the middle so couples would stay on their own side
Jon Foster-Smith and Ros Adams presented their novelty bedsheet, which aimed to prevent those times when your partner would take up too much space when you’re sleeping together in bed. It was essentially a bedsheet with a strip of fabric down the middle. How this was supposed to work while both partners are fast asleep, I have no idea.
4. Carboard beach furniture
Yes, the foldable furniture was easy to carry, and therefore surely perfect to take outdoors to the beach so you didn’t get all sandy. Apart from a few flaws, such as even a small just of wind turning your chair into a kite, and any drop of rain / seawater turning your chair into a pile of brown mush.
3. Throx – socks which come in a pack of three
Everyone eventually loses a sock, thereby making the remaining sock unwearable by itself. So the most logical thing to buy would be a pack of three socks so that you always have a spare when the other two are on your feet, right? Right? Anyone?
2. Wake N’ Bacon – the bacon-cooking alarm clock
You read that right. This alarm clock is shaped like a pig head, into which you insert a raw strip of bacon which is then cooked at your designated time so that the hearty aroma of bacon wakes you up. Who wouldn’t want a massive fire hazard sitting at the edge of your bed. Oh yeah, and it’s made of wood.
1. Foreign Driving Glove
In Britain, you drive on the left side of the road. In France and many other countries, you drive on the right hand side. This is a single glove that you put on the hand which represents which side of the road you’re meant to be driving on, left or right, in case at any point while driving you forget…
Did we miss any of your favorite / least favorite Dragon’s Den moments? Let us know in the comments below.
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Nick Skillicorn is an Innovation consultant and Creativity coach in London, and author of 30 Days of Creativity Training. Find out what Improvides can do for your organisation.