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  June 29, 2012
The Great Balancing Act...


"Life is like riding a bicycle... in order to mainain your balance... you must keep moving forward."

~ Albert Einstein

I was just about to leave the office Monday night when my phone rang.

"Hey Jim... this is Mark... I was wondering if I could meet with you for a cup of coffee sometime this week..."

Mark was an old fraternity brother from college.  He works for a large defense contractor in some sort of financial capacity. 

I asked Mark what prompted his call and he said that he had a new idea that he wanted to talk about.

I told Mark that I’d love to get together... so we set a date for later in the week.

Mark and I met at a small coffee shop near my office.  After some catching up, I asked Mark pointedly, "So what was this new idea that you wanted to talk to me about?"

Mark went on to explain that he had thought of a new revolutionary product idea about a year ago but he needed my help to bring it to market.   I sat there as he described in broad terms, his new invention.

In general, I liked his idea.  It did potentially fill a need, which is the first step in bringing a new product to market.

After Mark had finished his product outline, I proceeded to ask him several questions...

"Is there anyone else who is offering this product already in the market (or something similar)?... who is your end customer?... what size is the market for your product?... have you produced a working prototype to validate the design and see if the idea actually works?... have you done a patent search?"
All of Mark’s answers to my questions were either "no", "I don’t know", or "not yet"...

Finally in desperation I asked Mark, "so what have you done so far?"

He quickly replied, "I called you and set up a meeting... I know that you’ve created several new products and I was hoping that you’d take my idea and bring it to market... I know that it can make us a lot of money if we can just get it into the hands of the people who need it".

Finally I told Mark, "Look you’re a friend of mine so I’m saying this with kindness... you don’t have anything but a seed of an idea... it sounds like it could be a good idea... but in reality... I really don’t know... your product idea serves a need in a market very far away from mine so I have no way to know if this is a good idea or not".

"Remember... R&D is made up of two components... research and development... you need to send a lot more time on the research part and less time on the development part at this point in time."

I could see from his face that I had taken the wind from Mark sail...

He was truly hoping that I would take his "fantastic idea"... develop it into a product ... sell it to millions of people... and allow him to comfortably retire on fat royalty checks.

Unfortunately that’s not quite the way it works...

After throwing the cold water of reality into Mark’s face, I went on to explain that he shouldn’t despair.  His idea was potentially a good one... however it needed a lot more work before he could even think about bringing it to market.

Ideas require action in order for them to have a chance to succeed...

Mark and I spent the remaining time together creating an action list that he needed to complete before our next meeting. 

It required a lot of time (and some money) on his part in order to do the proper research needed to go to the next phase of the project development.

I left the meeting thinking to myself that it was unlikely that Mark will complete the items on the action list and that his idea will most likely die a premature death.

In order for an idea to succeed, two essential elements are required - innovation and management.

In his groundbreaking best-selling book, Free the Idea Monkey, innovative branding expert, Mike Maddock explains that in a classic sense, there are three vital ingredients to innovation:

1.  Find a problem that needs a solution (insight).

2.  Find an idea that solves the problem... whether it’s a product, a service, or an improvement in an existing product.

3.  Find a way to communicate to the world (or at least to your potential customers) that you have found a solution.

Notice that the first step is not finding a solution... but rather finding a problem... the bigger the problem... the larger potential for success.

In order for innovation to truly work... all three of the above conditions need to be satisfied... not one of three... not two of three... but three of three!!!

Unless you are incredibly talented and skilled... it is highly unlikely that you have the ability to accomplish all three of the innovation conditions on your own...

The late Steve Jobs was brilliant at identifying problems (item 1) and communicating Apple’s innovation to the world (item 3)

...but he wasn’t so good at actually creating solutions - he did however assemble a team of incredibly talented engineers to find solutions to the problems that he helped to identify...

Still... he had mastered 2 out of 3... not too bad...

True innovation generally requires a team approach.  Each person on the team is responsible for bringing certain skills that will help the team to accomplish all three innovation fundamentals.

If innovation is the Yin... sound management is the Yang.

A launching of a new idea requires resources.  It takes time... it takes financial resources... it takes logistical expertise, and it take focus.   

Steve Jobs was a great idea man.  He was not necessarily a great business man.  Each time that he attempted to involve himself into the management of Apple, the company faltered. 

I don’t watch much television but I do have one or two favorite shows that I record on a regular basis and watch when I have some downtime.

One of the shows I do watch is Mad Men.  Mad Men is a period show set in the 1960’s that chronicles the world of Madison Ave. advertising. 

When I first began watching the show, I knew nothing of the business of advertising.  As the seasons continued, I learned that an advertising agency team has two distinct areas of expertise and responsibility:

·   Operations - the people who manage the business side of the agency
·   Creatives - the people who create ideas (ads, jingles, campaigns)

Both sides of the business are essential to the overall success of the business as a whole. If one department fails at doing its job, it jeopardizes the success of the entire company.

It’s also important to note that the experts in their respective departments are left alone to do their jobs.  Account managers don’t attempt to develop or pitch ad campaigns.  That’s not their expertise.  Conversely, the creatives are not expected to find new clients, manage existing client relationships, or developing pricing strategies.

Any business... large or small... needs to find a way to continue to innovate... developing new ideas that lead to new products and/or services that solve problems.  It also needs strong management and sound business practices to ensure that the company remains focused and profitable.

It’s a delicate yet important balance... giving us the ability to move forward...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we will continuously search for new ideas to solve your problems.

Jim Kalb

www.optifuse.blogspot.com (blog archive)

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