Friday, April 1, 2011

Corporate idea killers

In my checkered career, I've been lucky enough to facilitate brainstorming sessions for medical products, breakfast foods, electric shavers, car names, even water. I've seen great ideas, half-baked ideas, and some really bad ideas. I've seen teams select ideas I would never recommend while leaving what I thought were sure winners on the wall.

What keeps great ideas from rising to the top and making it to market? Here are a few thoughts.
  1. Expecting perfection. Brainstorming does not produce complete product concepts, only the seed ideas for those products. The hard work begins after the session.
  2. Pet projects. Someone (usually a senior executive) walks into the room with 'the answer' and other ideas aren't given a chance.
  3. Not invented here. A lot of ideas are rejected because they're too similar to a competitor's successful product. Instead of tossing them out try to beat them. Make it faster, lighter, smaller, more useful, more of anything that the customer is asking for. (If you don't know what the customer is asking for you shouldn't be brainstorming)
  4. It's too easy. The answer is so obvious it can't possibly be right. If it were, someone else would have done it already.
  5. It's too hard. How do you make it? How do you market it? It might take a lot of work to get your product design, positioning, and manufacturing just right. Get over it and get started.
  6. It's not my job. No one is responsible for championing the ideas once the session is over.
  7. Impatience. I've seen companies reject ideas big enough to start a new company with because they didn't meet their minimum volume requirements at launch. Not every $100,000,000 idea is a $100,000,000 in year one.
  8. Complacency. "The business is going well. We don't need new products now. We can take our time." No you can't. Successful companies innovate their current products out of existence before their competition does. There are no more cash cows.
  9. Too much fuzz at the fuzzy front end. What are the objectives? Who's the target? Where's the pain or friction in the marketplace? What are the opportunities? Before you put a lot of people in a room, make sure you have the answer to these and a lot of other questions. You can't think outside the box unless you have a well defined box.
  10. We tried that already. Corporate memory is a blessing and a curse. It keeps you from repeating the mistakes of the past, but it prevents you from revisiting ideas that were ahead their time. Markets change, technology improves, attitudes evolve. 
I post this not in the spirit of making fun of corporate innovation, but in an attempt to help make it better. After all, you can't fix a problem until you acknowledge its existence.


  1. I do remember apple came out with the Newton before they got it right with the iPhone.

  2. I was going to use that as an example of #10, but I feel like I hold Apple up as an example way too often on this blog.

    Thanks for the comment.