Don’t Scuttle Your Own Idea by Overlooking or Underselling Potential
In my last post we talked about recognizing and responding to failure. While failure often occurs when something goes wrong, failure can also be the result of doing nothing.
Failing to recognize innovation and the opportunity it can bring is a major reason some businesses never launch. Plus, the inability to recognize innovation when it’s staring us in the face may also imply that we won’t be able to recognize failure points along its lifespan.
Were you at SXSW in Austin earlier this spring? As many of you know, I have the privilege of living in Austin, Texas, and I enjoy dropping in on the big event when I can. I especially love that new technology and innovative ideas seem to get as much attention as the music these days.
When I have had a chance to sample out-of-the-box technology and edgy inventions such as those at the expos, I like to think I am seeing the future unfold.
But, I wonder what others saw. Were you there?
Once you listened to the many speakers, saw the various displays and talked with other attendees, did you or the person next to you recognize a really meaningful innovation?
Spotting potentially lucrative and game changing innovation can be difficult even when we hear about it or see it in person. Often the inventors themselves don’t always recognize the opportunities that might result from their ideas.
While some of this is to be expected, I find that many of our clients don’t recognize all of their immediate opportunities. Only after some work will we find that their largest opportunity may lie in a different space than what they originally anticipated.
Plus, many fail to recognize how difficult it will be to communicate the significance (aka “monetary value”) of their great new idea. In my experience, only a few have the vision. I find myself telling clients and others that “the ability to make a business out of your idea is likely harder than developing the idea itself.”
As an inventor myself, I often believe that the value of my innovation will be obvious to all who see it. I know other inventors feel the same, but unfortunately, many others don’t always recognize the opportunities that are staring them in the face. Certainly this inability to recognize opportunity contributes to the startling reality of 90 percent failure among new products launched by start-ups. And 95 percent of U.S. patents are never monetized! 
Even timely and strategic innovations can be overlooked.
Would you have passed on being a part of the underlying technology behind Wi-Fi and GPS?
It happened! The idea for a “secret communication system” was given to the U.S. Navy in 1942 and languished in their files for years.
What an extreme example of an unrecognized opportunity. Even more shocking is that this idea did not come from an anonymous researcher toiling away in a basement lab. It came from a famous and controversial movie actress and her partner.
Sultry actress Hedy Lamarr, who graced the silver screen from the ‘30s through the ‘50s,  was never recognized for her scientific contributions at the time, but she and her business partner, the composer George Antheil invented the technology known as “spread-spectrum.” That innovation is now part of GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology, to name a few. At the time, the idea was her way of applying her capabilities to help the war effort.
What went wrong?
The idea was submitted to the USPTO as a patent application and later granted as US 2,292,387 Secret Communication System in 1942.  As the saying goes, so far so good. According to the article If it wasn’t for Hedy Lamarr, we wouldn’t have Wi-Fi, the new jam-proof technology “was meant for radio-guided torpedoes,” and was given to the U.S. Navy.
It’s a fascinating story and you can read more about it in “Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World” by Richard Rhodes.
Why didn’t the idea gain traction? Perhaps Ms. Lamarr and her partner were as guilty as I have been as an inventor – assuming everyone will see the value I recognize.
This story reinforces my findings that making a business (or success) out of an invention is much more difficult that simply inventing something that may dramatically change communications technology world-wide.
These are the primary reasons that I see many products/inventions failing:
• Not knowing your customer.
• Lack of market differentiation.
• Failure to communicate value.
• Leadership breakdown.
• Business model is not profitable.
(Hat tip and full credit to Eric T. Wagner “Five Reasons 8 Out Of 10 Businesses Fail,” Forbes, 9/12/13, for these points.)
Do any of these roadblocks sound familiar? How have you negotiated around them for your business?
 “If You Build It Will They Come: Three Steps to Test and Validate Any Market Opportunity” Rob Adams (2010)
 Hedy Lamar (Wikipedia)