5 Reasons Good Ideas Go Bad

5 Reasons Good Ideas Go Bad

Getting an idea from conception to implementation can be a disheartening experience in any company. I’ve seen good ideas go unrealized not so much due to resistance in the enterprise, but rather because the idea was not adequately proposed at the onset. Yet, you can avoid having your work sent to your company’s intellectual trash heap by avoiding the five most common reasons that stop good ideas from becoming great realities.

The reasons are:

    * The notion that *my* idea is a good idea
    * Not understanding that even the easy stuff is hard
    * Ignoring the accountant
    * Lack of a shooting script
    * The engineer’s aversion to selling

Allow me to elaborate.

Reason #1: The notion that *my* idea is a good idea

The first reason that a good idea goes bad is because the idea is just not that good to begin with. Just coming up with an idea doesn’t automatically make it good, no matter how clever the idea is or how much status the person who thought it up has.

Many times someone will come up with an idea, and the next thing you know it’s out in the open, which is OK if the idea is good. But, if the idea is bad, once it’s public, it will go really bad really fast.

Then, the best case is that the reputation of the idea’s creator will be temporarily compromised. The worst case is that you will be marginalized to the corner of your company as the person who came up with “that idea” that cost the company a pile of money, bad press and loss of prestige in the marketplace.

In some cases, if the idea is bad enough, the days of gainful employment at the company might be numbered. Make sure that *your* idea is a good idea before going public. Subject your thinking to relentless “pre-release” criticism. Be your own devil’s advocate. Make sure that you idea really has benefit to the case at hand. And, make sure that you can communicate the benefit clearly. Then, and only then, make your idea known to the organization.
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Reason #2: Not understanding that even the easy stuff is hard

The second reason that good ideas go bad is because the fundamental complexity of even the simplest parts of the idea is underestimated. I’ve seen more than one idea proposed along the lines of, “It’s simple, all we gotta do is insert some JavaScript…” only to elicit much rolling of the eyes and ultimately fail, because “it’s simple” translates into 50-plus man hours of labor disbursed among developers, quality assurance engineers, release managers, and others.

When it comes to implementing an idea within a real world commercial enterprise, nothing is easy. It’s all hard; so don’t give the impression otherwise.

Reason #3: Ignoring the acountant

The third reason that a good idea goes bad is because the numbers don’t balance. Every company has a least one person whose fundamental purpose in life is to make sure that the accounts balance and that the checks don’t bounce. This is the accountant.

The accountant looks at all expense as an investment that must yield a return. This type of person is paid to be cut and dry. Any idea has an expense. The benefit that your idea realizes is the return.

When you ask your company to support your idea, you are asking it to make an investment from which it wants to receive a substantial return. Still, most of the ideas that I’ve seen proposed by engineers describe benefits in terms of the neat way in which a particular technological approach solves the given problem.

It is the rare case that describes the benefit of an idea in the concrete, arithmetic language of the accountant. So, if you want your idea to go anywhere, provide a credible Return on Investment analysis to support your thinking.
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When you describe your idea, state in exact terms the cost of your thinking and the return your company can expect in terms of dollars saved or money made. If you can’t articulate a compelling ROI, your idea just ain’t that good.

Reason #4: Lack of a shooting script

The fourth reason that a good idea goes bad is because the idea lacks the detail required to turn the proposed concept into implemented reality. In the film industry the shooting script is the exact set of instructions to be followed to produce the intended film. The more detailed the shooting script, the easier it is to make the movie and control its costs.

Unless you have the reputation of Francis Ford Coppola, if you have a loose shooting script, your movie has ittle chance of getting made. The same can be said for an idea. The more details that are known, the easier it is to turn the idea into reality.

Yet many inexperienced technologists seem to be enamored with the romantic notion of sitting on a bar stool and coming up with the Next Great Thing on the back of napkin.

Sadly, turning any idea into a good idea requires a level of detailed thinking that takes more than the back of a napkin to explain. Detailed thinking is a sign of competence. A good idea, described in detail, has a better chance of being adopted by the enterprise.

Reason #5: The engineer’s aversion to selling

The fifth reason that a good idea goes bad is because it was not sold properly, if sold at all.
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A company’s key decision makers are confronted with tens, if not a hundred decisions to make on any given day. These people are paid to use their judgment, not to carry around an encyclopedic record of facts and figures.

Usually key decision makers are very good at getting to the heart of a matter once presented with the facts and figures that clearly articulate the benefit of applying a product or service to the need at hand.

It’s your job to present the facts and figures. Presenting a value proposition —- facts and figures that clearly articulate the benefit of an idea -— is a large part of what selling is about.

And yet, I’ve seen more than one engineer sneer at the very idea of having to sell an idea as if selling is some sort of nefarious act intended to impose a disreputable agenda upon an unsuspecting buyer. This is not the case. Selling is no more than making the enterprise aware of the value proposition associated with your idea and then helping to put the idea into action.

Good ideas do not sell themselves. If you are not willing to competently sell your idea, it will go bad. Even the iPod needed Steve Jobs to stand up in Cupertino and say, “Hey look at this. It’s great!”


Remember, not every idea is a good idea. Good ideas are hard to find and even harder to implement. But, if you are aware of the 5 Reason that Good Idea Go Bad, and act accordingly, you can increase the odds that your ideas will make it into your organization’s mainstream, and provide benefit to those with whom you work and the enterprise that you serve.


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