Any idea can be a good idea, but not every idea is. Before you process that let’s take the following questions into account. Why did Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) decide to produce cars? How did soft drinks become a billion dollar industry? Who would have thought you could make millions off of junk? When did the internet go from the information highway to the shopping highway? Where did Xerox go wrong with computers and what leads some to believe they should have been the personal computing tycoons of today?
An idea can be a first step in a new direction, the dawn of a new era, or it can be the means to failure – or even worse disaster. In the business world, ideas are at a dime a dozen. So it doesn’t mean much to have an idea unless you know how to turn that idea into realistic goals and are capable of designing a comprehensive plan to achieve those goals.
By looking back on a few of the largest and most recognized businesses in the world, and maybe some that aren’t so recognized, and analyzing the ideas that either boomed or bombed their businesses, we can get a clear perception of why an idea isn’t necessarily enough to determine good business.
Bayerische Flugzeug Werke, later called Bayerische Motoren Werke (English for Bavarian Motor Works or otherwise known as BMW), started off by manufacturing aircraft engines in 1916. After World War II the BMW sites had been heavily bombed or seized by the Soviets. The company saw little opportunity in continuing aircraft engine production and eventually lost all interest. However, they kept their, now widely-recognized, BMW roundel, the early trade-mark symbolizing white propellers against a blue sky backdrop. They ventured further into automobile production bringing a long line of motorcycles and cars to the European market. It wasn’t until the 1970’s, however, that BMW succeeded in entering the premium sector of the commercial market with a stride. Today, BMW’s passenger cars are universally known for their sportish-elegance and luxury.
So while BMW started with an idea to make engines for airplanes, they ended up being recognized for their top-of-the-line, first-class, commercial cars. This is one example of why it’s important to shift your strategy, if and when the strategy to utilize an idea fails to render successful. In this case the failure was due primarily to unforeseeable events beyond the influence or control of the company. BMW still stuck with its idea of producing high-grade quality engines regardless of whether those engines ended up in airplanes, motorcycles, or cars. Therefore the idea was neither good nor bad. It was simply an idea, but one that had been applied with the proper strategies.
There are of course many examples of – thought to be crazy – ideas that ended in tremendous success. The Coke Company, for example, was one to revolutionize the soft drink industry. It was difficult to imagine, in the late 1800’s, that some sugar-water would some day hail a $250 billion a year industry. The idea was perfect. People could go days without food, but water was irresistible. Yet people underestimated the value of water. Economically speaking, people put a greater value on dirt than they do water, but ironically water is the most demanded resource on the face of the planet. So the company supplied that demand – with a bit of an incentive. Don’t just drink water.. drink water that has both a flavor and a color!
Today Coke is the soft drink giant of the beverage industry producing both carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks including such products as carbonated beverages, juices, bottled water, flavored water, and teas. Today Coke has a market cap of $175 billion (USD) and is the world’s largest supplier of beverages.
But those ideas were easy to come up with back then! What could I possibly think of now that hasn’t been thought of already? It could be argued that those examples neglect to tackle contemporary competitive thinking. However, it’s still common today to find new and creative ideas that some businesses haven’t utilized or adapted effectively.
For example, an 18 year-old Canadian entrepreneur, Brian Scudamore, got an idea to make money off other peoples’ junk back in the 90’s. He believed that people would be willing to pay good money to dispose of old junk they no longer wanted around. He also believed people tended to dismiss those who weren’t very presentable from intruding their personal space. So he rented new trucks, gathered a team of cleanly presentable workers – dressed in navy pants and royal blue shirts – and began his business franchise 1-800-Got-Junk? The company collects fees for hauling junk away from your designated location. Everyday thousands of people call in to have large blue trucks come and pick up their old junk and haul it off.
The franchise now operates in 250 locations across North America and Australia pulling in more than $12 million a year. His idea was unique because of both its originality and creativity. Brian found a demand in the market that needed to be met and supplied it in a manner that would befit his overall business objectives, which is critical in business decision making.
As most of you may already know the internet was originally a, technology initiative, government funded project started by the United States department of defense in 1957, and came to be known as the ARPANET (short for Advanced Research Project Agency Network). Later the term ‘internet’ – as we now know it – was coined.
So how did the internet come to be renowned as the ‘information super-highway’? This was because the ARPANET was soon after taken to universities for further research and development. Over the years the department of defense began to slowly withdraw its grasp and military interest over the ARPANET, but continued to fund the project for some time.
After the first transnational link was created educational institutes from the U.S and Europe began communicating over the internet and the exchange of information became quick and apparent. Researchers and scholars of universities in both the United States and Europe were in data crossfire frenzy, shortly there after.
But the idea behind the internet then grew on a whole new level. While researchers were busy developing protocols and programs, the business world began to see new opportunities opening up. It wasn’t until 1994 that the internet began generating ecommerce transactions. Today almost all major businesses are e-oriented and many organizations operate entirely over computer networks (internet, intranet, and extranet).
While the idea, behind the internet itself, was a spin off from growing military interests, in advanced communications technology, it somehow evolved into a new platform for businesses to benefit from.
Pizza Hut’s decision to offer order placement through its website on the world-wide-web in 1994, for example, would not have been likely had interventions not been made by companies like AT&T and MCI to develop high-speed backbones that led the internet to be facilitated by a massive number of growing hosts.
So good ideas for a business or business-oriented initiatives are dependent on our ability to realize potential and effectively seize the maximum benefit from that potential. Such was not the case, however, for Xerox in the 1980’s during the personal computing boom.
Usually we recall names like Apple computers, IBM and Microsoft when we think of how computers came to be of pivotal personal use today. Little is recognized, however, by the Xerox Company’s contributions to the modern computer.
The name Xerox merely brings to mind photocopy machines and fax paper. On the contrary, Xerox holds credit to many of the most basic modern computer technologies such as the mouse, the graphical user interface, Ethernet, and the laser printer – to name but a few. Palo Alto Research Center (short for PARC) is a wholly owned Xerox subsidiary and was largely responsible for the birth of Apple’s ‘Lisa’ computer model.
The idea of creating a graphical user interface, using a mouse to better navigate that interface and adapting – what we now refer to as basic functions of any computer program – features like menus, windows, and icons was nothing short of genius.
However, the company’s top level management failed to turn that idea into a business-oriented objective. The project later moved to Apple computers along with some of the personnel who worked on the technologies in PARC. Then Microsoft used the same idea to build its dominant computer operating system (Windows), now estimated to be used by more than two thirds of all computer users.
Xerox did not realize the potential behind PARC’s idea. They failed to seize the maximum benefit and so they believed that it was not a good idea for business.
The ability of one business to use the same, or a similar, idea of another business through different strategies clearly draws the line between mild accomplishment and ground-breaking triumph in this particular example.
Basically any business idea is the stipulation of a goal met by certain challenges. Your ability to fully realize potential, conceptualize future challenges, lay a plan to overcome those challenges, and achieve your goal is essential to what sets a good idea apart from a bad one.
If an idea suddenly comes to you and you slowly begin to realize the challenges involved, but are unable to attain realistic solutions or alternatives, then it would be best to steer clear of such an idea. On the other hand, if you find your idea growing and new challenges stimulating newer solutions with even better outcomes then stick with your idea. Any idea can be a good idea, but not every idea is good for every business.