So, one of our interns (let’s call him Steve) has an ongoing list he carries around on his iPhone called the “million dollar ideas list”. It contains a variety of outside-the-box, mostly funny, ideas that are just reasonable enough to cause you to pause and think… “yeah, that just might work.” Ideas like the ravioli with the sauce INSIDE, the stretch-to-fit band-aids, and the (heated) bean bag toilet have all prompted lively discussions in our office. (By the way, by reading this you are virtually signing our NDA.)
In many ways, the simple thought that something “just might work” has been the angst that has kept progress afloat. It was the catalyst for the Wright Brother’s first flight. It was the precursor to Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb. And it was the basis for some of the most innovative means of productivity – everything from Ford’s assembly line to Wikipedia’s (volunteer) community of publishers.
But, here’s the problem.
Few of us consistently give space for ideas. We tend to go about the monotony of our daily routine and write-off any such “thought” as an ineffective use of our time. Even if we get to the “just might work” moment, it is often derailed by our realization that we simply do not have the time to research, to experiment, to wonder.
We would be wise to pause here and take a few cues from who very well might be the worldwide leader of idea development these days… Google. Sure, they currently have the resources to hold such a position; however, this was not always the case. In fact, a significant portion of Google’s growth in the early days was directly correlated to Google’s “laboratory” mentality. As most are now aware, Google has what has been deemed their “20% Time” program, where employees devote 20% of their time to something that is company related, but also is of personal interest or intrigue. In other words, if you have the thought that something “just might work”, they want you to try it (on company time and with company resources). Popular products such as Gmail, Adsense, Orkut, Google Talk, Google Earth, and Google News all emerged out of various engineer’s “20% Time.”
Throughout our week, we meet with numerous business owners and entrepreneurs that are looking for ways to improve (or begin) their business. It does not take much to notice the difference between those that will likely succeed and those that will likely fail. Sure, there are countless factors that go into the success of company, but all of those factors revolve around one thing: the idea. Is it good? Is it unique? Is it the focus? And can it be implemented?
Again, the problem is not necessarily whether something can happen or not, the problem is that we don’t give weight and attention to idea development in the first place.
Try something different this week. Schedule an hour for ideas. What are the primary problems in your industry that need addressing? What are the possible solutions? What do you care about? What matters to you? Before you (hopefully) embark upon many ventures in idea development, I leave you with a fair warning. If you’re committed, if you’re consistent, it’s very possibility that you’ll land upon something that… well, “just might work.”