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09/06/2011 Ideas are not enough

We’ve all had this happen: we have (what we think) is a great idea. It’s based on a combination of customer insight, business, actual behavior and a bolt from the blue. It makes so much sense you’re amazed no one has done it quite like you’re thinking. You can see both the path and the success.

Most of the time, though, it doesn’t end that way. Here are some of the reasons why that idea never quite made it to reality. 

  1. It’s not just your story. An idea needs a story around it. Most of the time, you’ve constructed one that you tell to your team or your boss; that’s how you’ve sold it. If it’s a good story, it moves ahead.

    The problem is that too often the idea and story initiator is the only person who can tell it correctly. If you want your story to live and succeed, you need to make sure that others can tell the same story, with the same enthusiasm and belief.

    One of the ways I can tell when I have a good idea is when I see my teammates tell the story as if it were their own. When you can hear it with someone else’s voice and words, your chances of success have increased dramatically.

    When you see that your team still has problems articulating your story even when everyone is deep into the project, you’re in trouble. Make sure you take the time, early on, to ask people to tell you the story back or even to embellish it. It’s amazing to see how people can reinterpret the idea into different stories over time, even ones that are diametrically opposed to what you initially thought.

  2. Face it, when we have good ideas, we fall in love with them. Usually, though, most other people don’t. In fact, some people don’t really care that much about them at all.

    Projects and ideas move ahead for a variety of reasons. But not all projects and ideas are created equal. While your idea may be brilliant, a game changer even, you might only have limited support and resources to move it along. An even stranger combination is when you have resources but not the attention of key stakeholders to succeed.

    One way to get around this is to understand where your idea fits into the overall scheme of things. You can do that through a simple step: Ask! Take time with your key decision maker(s) and see how they prioritize your idea and where it fits in the grand scheme of things.

    It may turn out that people you expect contributions and support from are just too busy to do so. This can result in a slow, painful death to your idea at worst, or just lousy execution at best.

    If you can find the sweet spot for your idea and story, you have a better chance of bringing it to life.

  3. What or who are the potential roadblocks? It’s better to spend some time finding this out at the very beginning rather than the very end. There are lots of horror stories of great ideas and projects dying at the finish line because a final roadblock (legal, brand, accounting) decides that something is not quite right.

    It’s better to figure out who will say No early on, so you can start telling them your story. If you can understand their resistance, you might be able to figure out a way around it with their help. Again, the story is the key here.

    You may end up discovering that the people who you expected to say No actually provide you with some even better ideas and insights than you originally had. They can make your story better and you can give them ownership.


There are a number of books, like Buy In, that help you sell your idea into a group of skeptical people. But once you’ve gone past that, there’s no guarantee that your idea will happen. 

If you can make others love it even half as much as you do, you’ve got a pretty good chance of succeeding.

(Image from the brilliant Tom Fishburne's Marketoonist Blog)


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