10 Questions – Failed Ideas

Posted by on Jun 30, 2011 in Blog, Thoughts | 0 comments

I recently gave an interview for Idea Mensch, a global “community of people with ideas.”

One of the questions was: how do you cope with an idea that has failed?

This question seemed very intriguing to me and I think it serves as a good base for today’s 10 Questions.

So, here are 10 questions you should always ask yourself when faced with an idea that has failed.

As an example, I’ll use my own original “failed” idea that eventually got me to Rock Thoughts, which I consider to be a rather successful one.

1. How does the failure of your idea make you feel?

I start with this question because it is the one we most often ignore.

We rarely like to talk about our feelings of defeat, let alone acknowledge them.

However, unless we recognize the emotional impact that a failure can have on us, it will color our decision-process for everything else that follows.

Obviously we will all feel angry or disappointed or frustrated.

The key is to give our feelings on the matter an opportunity to vent so that we can then tackle the failure without being moved by the emotion.

My original idea was to do a form of collaborative storytelling that could be conducted on-line leading up to books delivered virtually and in print. After over a year of actively developing this concept, I stumbled upon Storybird which is exactly what I wanted to do. I was utterly devastated. I had invested so much time, energy and emotion into my idea and it had already been developed and in a beautiful way! There was nothing left for me to do. I literally closed my computer and walked away determined to sulk my way into forgetting the whole thing. I realized, however, that the sulking emotion was clouding my vision so I gave myself a day to be sad and then moved on to step (2) below.

2. What is the specific idea that has failed? 

An idea is comprised of many components, all of which are interconnected but not all of which “fail.”

Therefore, it is important to separate that which is still viable from that which you think no longer has merit.

The reason for this is that the valid content may be useful in reformulating your idea (see below) and the failed content will be useful to analyze  in order to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Storybird had certainly captured the bulk of my original idea; however, when I looked more closely at my specific concept, it turned out to be broader than what Storybird was doing and therefore allowed me some flexibility to create something new and different.

3. Why do you think the idea has failed?

This is probably the most important question you can ask and it goes to the heart of how you understand “failure.”

Perhaps I’m stating the obvious but, how we define failure affects how we view our success.

Some questions to ask: are you relying on your own parameters or those set my a social system, are you working off of your expectations or those of others, are you looking at the idea on a short-term or long-term basis, etc?

The point here is that we oftentimes deem an idea to have failed when in fact, if we revise our understanding of failure, we will see that the idea may still be viable.

I thought the idea had failed because it had already been done and there was nothing new for me to add. However, once I looked more closely at my idea, I realized that it hadn’t, in fact, failed since there was a way for me to change it and still continue to develop it.

4. Did you define “failure” at the onset of your endeavor?

When we start off a project with clear metrics that will allow us to determine whether or not we have accomplished our goal, it is easier to identify whether we have failed.

Conversely, if we try to determine failure as the project develops, it becomes more complicated since our parameters are probably shifting as the project grows.

I did not and that fact both helped and hindered me. It hindered me in that at the first sign of a big challenge, I nearly gave up. On the flip side, it helped in that I was able to move beyond the challenge because the challenge didn’t meet specific parameters of failure.

5. Is there anything you could have done to prevent this failure?

Some failings are simply due to our own inexperience or lack of information; others are entirely out of our control.

If we can identify what caused the failure, not only are we better positioned to avoid it in the future but this helps us cope with the failure in the first place as we are able to “control” it to the extent that we can better understand it.

I could have perhaps done more research (although I did a lot the onset). Part of the problem was that the idea grew organically and changed quite a bit so where it ended up was not the place where it began when I did the research.

6. Can your idea be adjusted so that it is still viable?

This requires that we be very clear on the crux of our idea and how much flexibility there is for it to grow.

It also requires that we understand the precise challenges that make our original idea fail so that we can find ways to work around them.

I truly believe that if an idea has room to expand and change, it will continue to flourish and perhaps even in novel and more meaningful ways.

When I pulled away from the Storybird premise, I was able to see other venues to explore with my idea of collaborative storytelling, focusing more on the global nature of it and of integrating a physical, tangible object that would serve as a real catalyst for a virtualized experience.

7. What can you learn about this failure?

As with all challenges, it is important to understand what happened, how it impacted us and what we can do in the future to avoid it.

In addition, it is critical that we take a further step and ask ourselves what we can build to overcome the experience.

In other words, it’s not simply a matter of recognizing the failure and walking away but of building a bridge over it so that we can continue making forward progress, either with our original idea or a variation of it.

The most important thing I learned from this experience was to grow past the failure. I truly believed that my idea had merit and that there was a way for it to continue to flourish. Once I overcame the shock and disappointment of my initial failure, I determined to move forward by altering the idea and that was the most valuable lesson for me.

8. What do you need to overcome the failure?

There are very few failures that we cannot overcome.

This may require that we change something about our idea but if we are willing to do that and are idea has the capacity to grow organically in this way, we can move past the failure in a productive way.

The question is, what specifically do we need in order to do that?

To use the analogy from question (7) above, we recognized we need to build a bridge and what kind of bridge we need. In this step, we need to identify the materials and resources that are necessary for our bridge.

In my case, I needed to rethink my objectives and understand the different way that I could achieve it. Since I wanted this tool to be a learning one, I also needed to turn my attention to academia and find contacts and resources that could inform the ideology behind my concept. I had to understand the different tools of social media that would allow me to develop my concept and, of course, do more extensive research on what other concepts where out there that mirrored mine.

9. Do we need to re-define “failure”?

I realize that we cannot spend unlimited time and resources pursuing a constantly changing idea. At some point we need to be able to put an idea to rest and allocate our resources to something else.

To that end, we should understand what that point is. Moreover, it shouldn’t be so restrictive that we arrive at it too soon.

Rock Thoughts has already exceeded my goals and the amount of time, energy and money that I put into this is minimal compared to the success it has achieved and where it has the potential to go. While I have re-visited my concept of failure for this idea, I am nowhere near it at this point.

10. Has the failed idea inspired a new one?

Oftentimes, the challenges we undergo in bringing one idea to light beget other ideas.

Perhaps one of these other ideas, while quite different than what you initially expected, is better suited to your goals.

Pay attention to the ideas that spring up throughout your journey and don’t be afraid to shift your focus if the timing is right.

This whole experience inspired me to redesign my entire business and focus my energy on developing and implementing projects and resources designed to empower children through creativity. Rock Thoughts is the first but there are others that I am developing. Those others sprung from my journey through my initial idea and failure to where I am now.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these and any other questions you think are relevant. In the meantime, I leave you with this thought from Alain de Botton: “The world is hardly short of good ideas – the challenge is how to make them take hold and stick.”

© Tot Thoughts – smart parenting for smart child development

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