How to Win with an Idea
Ideas are what fuel companies in every department and at every level, whether you’re a mechanic shop or the largest merchandise and web development company in the entertainment industry. A company’s success is in the hands of its ideas, and it needs those ideas to survive the ups and downs of the economy and the market. Executing an idea is like baking a soufflé cake. Soufflés are delicate, and baking them for too long or too short can ruin the chances of making a perfect cake. Similarly, there are pitfalls to ideas and how to successfully deploy them. They are fragile and can easily be mishandled, stolen or crushed at the misfire of bad execution. Some things to consider before you implement your next big idea are timing, valuation, the Ratio of Failure, proper staff, revisions and of course, be in it to win it.
Timing: Most ideas live and die with timing. In 1999, I worked as the creative director for a web company that was smack in the middle of the dot-com bubble’s death rattle. Long before YouTube or Facebook, we developed an idea called “campusvibe.com”. It had online properties that allowed students to make videos to post online and share with other CampusVibe members. We had built and launched concepts that were beyond advanced for the time.
CampusVibe died for many reasons. Like most of the dot-coms of that era, we had developed ideas so cutting-edge that we didn’t have the bandwidth or users to support it. In those days, people had dial up services and paid AOL for email, and the Internet population was less than one quarter of what it is today. The lesson here is that your idea may be worth a million dollars but if implemented too early, it could come to a sudden death.
Valuation: When you think you have that winning idea, you have to take stock of what it will take to make the idea work. It’s difficult for most people to do this and it is often the reason the idea fails. You must look objectively at all the measures required to properly launch your idea. Make a list and answer the following questions: What staff will you need? What will it cost? How will the idea flourish? What tools does it need? What is the goal? What are the steps to getting it there?
Ratio of Failure: When you launch an idea, you have to set what I call the “Ratio of Failure” for you and your team. The Ratio of Failure is the time frame that you give your idea to fail before it succeeds. Some people may seek instant results after their idea launches; however, most ideas always need time to stretch their legs and find success. Some ideas are cut short before they are able to fully realize their potential because the bar was set too high and they were not given ample time to grow.
Set a time frame of six months, one year, two years or whatever amount of time you deem appropriate. Allow the idea to fail during that time, and embrace it as part of the process. Not allowing your idea room to stumble sets an unnecessary pressure on it. Stay focused on the goal of the idea, and believe that it can win. Remember that all ideas, no matter the scope, need a feasible amount of time to be realized.
Proper staff: Many times, the person who came up with the idea may not be the right person to manage it. Some people are good at management, some at operations and some are best at being the creative minds that come up with the ideas. We all have our strengths, but just because it is your idea does not necessarily mean you are the best person to make it come to fruition. Most ideas require an entire team of people to help deploy it. Don’t stand in the way of your idea, and always share the work, the credit and the wealth. Include all of the contributors in your praise, but also be sure that the motives behind the idea are for “the win” and not just for praise. Many great ideas live a silent life of achievement without praise or notice.
Edit and revisit: The sooner you can embrace the notion that ideas need to be tweaked and revised, the sooner your idea will have a shot at success. You may be a world-class genius who has come up with a groundbreaking idea, but you must be humble enough to realize the idea may need rounds and rounds of revisions. All ideas have missing pieces, and more often than not, the landscape, environment or rules have surely changed in the time that it took for your idea to hatch; you must be willing to edit and revise the idea.
People around you will have input and opinions they think will help the idea succeed and grow. Be sure to take their thoughts into consideration, but also remember that you’re the creator of the idea and must seek discernment in whether the advice will help or hurt it in the long run.
Be in it to win it: To make an idea come to life is to take a big gamble. There are so many factors that can propel its success or lead to its demise, and I’ve only covered a few thus far. Just keep in mind that when an idea fails, you must use the experience you gained to help you determine what works and what does not. You will learn something from every success and failure. Don’t keep score as if it's a college football winning record. If you focus on the failures and the score, it will you make you so cautious that you’ll stop inventing ideas. You have to be in it to win it.
Understand that your company needs your ideas. Ideas can make your job easier and advance your career. When many ideas fail, they are considered bad ideas; in actuality, they may have been great but failed prematurely because some of the above steps were skipped. Instead, think them through, and give them a shot. A half-thought through idea can be guaranteed dead on arrival. In the end, don’t be discouraged by the ideas that fail, move on and let your creativity live to fight another day.