I would wager that for every 10 somewhat-incubated (how’s that for an ambiguous test?) ideas, maybe one – on a good day when the planets align – makes it out of the gin mill. Let’s posit that three or four are just that: an idea. Another handful – say three – are either nice-to-have, undifferentiated prospects and/or slightly tweaked replications of a current innovation. One or two are simply not feasible: You can’t make it, the market will not buy it, etc.
That leaves one lonely idea. One prospective product (or company) that yearns to germinate. How?
Aside from the obvious take-and-idea-and-turn-it-into-something-people-will-buy blocking and tackling of business, I’d bank on one discriminating facet: commitment.
Table the ideas for a minute. For every 10 wannabe entrepreneurs, nine never percolate. Their risk-to-opportunity ratio is too high. After all, it’s human nature to resist failure. Think Psych 1A and the Commitment Theory, tersely summarized by Dr. Timothy J. Maggs:
One of the most admired qualities in our society today is that of true commitment. The ability to singularly focus on one objective and to move forward with an undying passion towards accomplishing a specific goal, whether it be a job, a marriage, an athletic event or even a favor for someone else requires strong character and discipline.Once you commit – publicly, emotionally, financially and professionally – you’ve anted up. You’re in the game and you have a chance. Even then, you’re idea/company will probably not make it. But, you have not failed. Whether skiing downhill, driving a car, or running a business, it's much easier to change directions when you're moving. If you're not moving you're, well, going nowhere.
“The only people who fail are those who never try,” opined Ilka Chase. Well said, though I prefer a Kawasakism (one of Guy Kawasaki, a former Sacramento Entrepreneurship Academy Showcase speaker’s, nine truths of innovation): Don’t Worry, Be Crappy.
An innovator doesn't worry about shipping an innovative product with elements of crappiness if it's truly innovative. The first permutation of a innovation is seldom perfect--Macintosh, for example, didn't have software (thanks to me), a hard disk (it wouldn't matter with no software anyway), slots, and color. If a company waits--for example, the engineers convince management to add more features--until everything is perfect, it will never ship, and the market will pass it by.
Nothing entrepreneurial is perfect. Nor easy. If it were easy (to commit, to create, to prosper), everyone would do it. After all, the rewards are too tantalizing to resist.
Post-script (8/15/07): Unearthed a worthy post, Too Many Companies??. An excerpt:
The key to getting on the bike is to stop thinking about "there are a bunch of reasons i might fall off" and just hop on and peddle the damned thing. You can pick up a map, a tire pump, and better footwear along the way.++++++
Post-script (17 Mar 08): Paul Graham of Y Combinator tenors our tune in a post, How Not to Die ...
One of the most interesting things we've discovered from working on Y Combinator is that founders are more motivated by the fear of looking bad than by the hope of getting millions of dollars. So if you want to get millions of dollars, put yourself in a position where failure will be public and humiliating.