On “Why Ideas Fail”

I have one of the greatest roles. Essentially, my role is innovative ideas and boundary pusher. In this sort of role, I find the ability to self-reflect quickly and thoughtfully (hard, I know) to be one of the key aspects.

It is the Google concept in many ways – I’m failing fast, correcting course, and cultivating ideas until they take root just enough where others can go to the depths needed for sustainability.

This is why I’m always intrigued by the incubation of ideas and the fine line we walk between failing and failure. Steve Tobak recently wrote about 10 reasons ideas fail and it is a list worth pondering:

  1. Bad timing
  2. Everybody’s doing it
  3. It doesn’t solve a big problem
  4. Unpopular opinion
  5. Poor execution
  6. The numbers don’t add up
  7. Too much risk, too little synergy
  8. Flawed assumptions
  9. Where’s the infrastructure?
  10. Mismanagement

While these are focused on product development it seems, there are items here that speak to the human development piece that leaders should be cognizant of when cultivating ideas.

In particular, Bad Timing and Flawed Assumptions.

Failing vs Failure

Failing because of Bad Timing is inevitable if you are a leader. Regardless of your cultural awareness or best intentions, there are times it just isn’t going to go. I”ve had this happen numerous times, but it doesn’t mean failure. It means file it away to be revisited later but take note of why it was bad timing – helps avoid another “bad timing” issue.

Think Steven Johnson and the adjacent possible – bad timing often means not opening enough doors that makes the idea palatable.

Flawed Assumptions, however, more times than not lead to failure – a true death sentence to the idea and to the person, if it happens enough times.

To avoid this, cultural awareness and design thinking is key. Listen. Listen. Listen. Diversify. Diversify. Diversify. Triangulate. Triangulate. Triangulate.

You get the point.


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