Your Brand New Innovation Is Brilliant--but Destined to Fail

By Paul B. Brown | Small Business

Inventing something the world has never seen before is an admirable project--but rarely the path to success. Here's a better strategy.

When you are searching for a great idea for a product or service, one that you can build a business around, it's natural to start with a blank piece of paper--or empty computer screen.



A good idea?


To increase your odds of success dramatically, begin by searching for places where you can solve a problem or improve an existing idea.

It isn't as strange as it sounds.

Because you are smart and creative, there is absolutely no doubt you could come up with endless ideas for new products or services before the sun sets. There would be that zero gravity theme park, make-your-own donut shops, and that portable computer that comes with a built-in printer.

Creativity is wonderful. And imagination even better. But if they are not linked to making money--or making the world a better place, if what you want to do is create a nonprofit--then they aren't particularly helpful. They are just thoughts you have to help pass the time.

Creativity that isn't linked to making money is just a hobby. It isn't a viable business concept. And the reason you are trying to come up with a new idea is, ultimately, to make money.

That's the first reason you don't want to start with a blank piece of paper, i.e. beginning by coming up with something unique.

Here's the second.

Starting with a new idea is usually inefficient because you can't do much with most of those wonderful ideas. Some are not yet feasible. (We don't know yet how to create zero gravity over an extended area--an area big enough to house a theme park--and many of those ideas, such as said theme park, are going to require much more capital than most of us can easily lay our hands on.

Problem three, if you start with a blank piece of paper, once you end up with your new idea you have to go and search for people who may need it. That is costly and time consuming. (You have spent all this time building the portable computer with the built-in printer, only to find that the number of people who truly need it, and are willing to put up with how heavy it is, is remarkably small.)

All this explains why you don't want to start with a new idea. You want to begin by trying to solve an existing need.

There are three specific reasons why.

For one thing, you won't have to spend a lot of time explaining what you have. The Polaroid camera was eventually a huge success. But it took a while. They needed to educate the market. Everyone knew what a camera was, and they could imagine a better one (one that took sharper pictures; or was easier to focus, or whatever.) But trying to sell a camera that developed its own film took a lot of explaining. People needed to understand what it was and be convinced that it actually worked. If they have a need, there isn't a lot of explaining to do. Your pitch? You have a need for a product/service that does X? Here it is.

For another, you have a ready-made market. You are creating a product or service for people who have told you they need it. There is not a whole lot of time wasted looking for customers.

And finally, you can move substantially faster. The scope of what you are trying to do is remarkably clear. You are trying to solve a specific need. Everything else is irrelevant.

The takeaway: Make your life dramatically easier. Start with trying to solve a customer need, not with a new idea.

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