Is the big new idea overrated?
Many new business ventures are sparked into life by the belief of the founder that they have seen a highly inventive big new idea. These new ideas may have been formed in a flash of inspiration, or as a result of lengthy research. However the ideas are created, the social energy and attractiveness of this type of business in its early stage can be overwhelming, and can easily obscure the judgment of the founder and others in the fledgling business. This is a condition sceptical funders are very well aware of.
The early stage founder with the big new idea is often obsessed with secrecy, patent protection, confidentially clauses and other signs of a belief that their idea has huge commercial potential, which is almost within reach. But how valuable is the big idea?
It’s true that we need a constant flow of new inventions and ideas to keep our societies and economies vibrant, and to have economic value, inventions need to be well-implemented. But, the ability to implement and manage the day to day operations of a trading business is not always the strongest skill of an invention-led founder.
Even with a rounded founder, or one with the common sense to complement their own skill set with a team which provides what’s necessary to innovate rather than invent, the gap between the idea and a sustainable business can be too great for anyone to fund, or work with.
There’s been a great deal of emphasis in business in recent years on the importance of invention, the next big thing, or the big new idea. But, none of these are as important as the skill of innovation – taking existing ideas, or ideas which may be very old and implementing them, or operating them every day in a way which is cheaper, better, faster or easier than anyone else.
The importance of innovation to profitability is much greater than the importance of new ideas in themselves. But there’s an added edge to innovation – it has to be a constant process, continually seeking to innovate and improve without any fixed goal such as the filing of a patent. Constant innovation is what sets apart prosperous, expanding businesses from those which are static or declining, and led by tradition.
There are some very successful and high profile examples of businesses which started not with a brilliant flash of inspiration about a big new idea, but rather as improved, innovative implementations of existing ideas or long-established industry models. They include Microsoft, Ford and Apple. If you thought Apple invented the iPod, they didn’t. They innovated an existing patent which an English inventor called Kane Kramer could not afford the patent renewal fee for.
So, if you’re searching for the next big thing to make the cornerstone of your new business, don’t search too hard. You’d probably be better off by studying what existing businesses in your chosen sector get wrong, avoiding their mistakes, and implementing a proven idea in a way which is simply better.