“The bad artists imitate, the great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso
Let’s face it, truly original business ideas are hard to come by. I’m not talking about “let’s up the camera on the phone for the next release” kind of ideas. I mean truly original ones, such as “what if I shaved the edges of this rock to make it round?”
Such ideas don’t come by every day, year or even decade. They come once in a lifetime to those lucky enough to have them. For the rest of us, we can always rely on innovation.
People are so afraid of telling the wrong person about their business idea, thinking that spreading the idea will eliminate their chances of making it big. They don’t realize that it has nothing to do with the idea itself; it has everything to do with the execution and the fervor and passion driving that idea.
[Image credit: Crew.co]
Let me give you an example.
Imagine it is 10 years ago. You go to a nearby electronics store to look at the MP3 players. There are the usual suspects: Microsoft Zune, Apple iPod, and even the Sony Walkman. You have to decide on which brick to spend your next paycheck.
Yet, would you have guessed that it was a full three years before the first iPod was created that the concept of the MP3 player was already brought into the world?
That’s right. In 1997, a Korean company called Saehan Information Systems changed the music-listening world with the creation of their mobile music mainframe. They actually called their portable MP3 player the MPMan. I actually like “mobile music mainframe” more, but maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, I digress.
At that time, the MP3 file had been around for a while, but the MPMan was the first portable memory-stored music player. It could only save six or 12 songs, depending on whether you bought the 32mb or the 64mb version, but that was an entire album that you could slip into your non-cargo pants pocket.
It was, in no small terms, a monumental shift in the portable music industry. If only it sold.
Don’t get me wrong, in the beginning, those who realized what Saehan had done loved the MPMan. The problem is that the average consumer only buys a product when they understand its purpose and can recognize how it will be beneficial to them. So, when it came to portable hard drives with earbuds versus showing off your immense CD collection in the 90s… Better luck next time, Saehan.
But, what does any of this have to do with choosing whether or not to share your business ideas?
It doesn’t matter who knows about your business idea. What matters is what the end users who know about the idea do with the information.
It didn’t matter when the MP3 player was created. Saehan was the first on the market, but failed to achieve success. Apple was just one of the many companies to enter the portable MP3 player market by 2001, but they understood how to sell the technology.
What’s more, at that time, Creative Labs was considered to have the best MP3 players on the market as far as sound and material quality were concerned. Every new product they made received rave reviews. Yet, only portable MP3 player aficionados remember the Creative Zen! That’s because they had the idea and they had the product, but they didn’t know how to sell it and improve upon it like Apple did.
So, it’s not about having an idea; it’s about what you do with the idea. (Tweet this!)
Still not convinced? How about some science; some cold hard facts.
In a 38-page journal article, Gonçalo Pacheco-de-Almeida, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Business Policy at HEC in Paris, and Peter Zemsky, Dean of Executive Education and Innovation at the INSEAD business school, explain that publicly sharing the intellectual property from a business’s research and development department actually improves the speed of internal innovation and even slows down the competition.
Yes, that’s right. It slows down the competition.
How, you ask?
Through painstaking mathematics, Pacheco-de-Almeida and Zemsky showed that by sharing intellectual property freely the competition more often gets bogged down trying to replicate and sell your product while you have a head start on innovation. But therein lies the rub.
Having an idea first only gives you a head start. The difference between success and failure is how you continue to build upon that idea.
It’s also important to point out that innovation by others can provide a much needed change in perspective for yourself.
If you are stuck on how to improve a product and some onlooker gives you their thoughts (“what if you put wings on it?”) then you realize the opportunities for your product if it flew. Voila, you’re back in it with a different perspective. So, don’t be afraid of others’ business ideas. They may be the ticket to your next big break!
Seriously, if Apple made their first generation iPod, saw that it was selling well, and decided it was good enough, they would have been worse off than Saehan. Instead, Apple came up with a new and improved version less than a year later.
And, they didn’t just release the new version into the wilds of the market. No, they shouted about it from the mountaintops. They proclaimed the glory that was their new creation. As they do every year, they held press conference after press conference to display their innovations. Not only that, they backed up all that noise with substance.
Sure, there may have been better products on the market, but the combination of top-notch marketing and marked improvements brought the masses flocking. So, no one remembers the MPMan.
Listen, it doesn’t matter who is in the field, how long the industry has been going or who is working on the same breakthrough that you are. Rather focus on taking an idea and making it something. Pursue your idea passionately. And, once you achieve your vision, don’t stop. Continue to improve your product.
The boxer Oscar De La Hoya said it best: “There is always space for improvement, no matter how long you’ve been in the business.”
Mere invention doesn’t bring prosperity or success. It’s the ability to see opportunity and take full advantage of it that will make you prosper.
So, what do you think about sharing your business ideas? What is your experience with complete disclosure? What questions do you have about sharing your vision?
Please feel free to leave your comments, questions or feedback below.