if your idea is really unique…

I read a recent profile on Jason Freedman in Inc Magazine.  Freedman is on his third startup 42 Floors, after a recent successful sale of his second one, FlightCaster.  There are several pretty cool ideas regarding startups and developments in the article.  I find myself attracted to ideation approaches because at this point I’ve got a few concepts I’m focusing on, and am determining what are the best questions to ask to further hone in on one.

One I like is thinking of the startup development as chapters.  I love considering narrative’s as a form of meaning-making.  The reason why he uses the chapters is to keep some distance from the idea- to give some flexibility:

 Freedman calls the successive iterations of his venture chapters. “Entrepreneurs tend to get too fond of their ideas, and that makes them resistant to change,” he explains. “It feels like having to let go of your dream. But calling it a chapter acknowledges up front there will be more chapters. A chapter is easier to let go of.”

There are a few other great ideas, including encouraging serendipity, and surrounding yourself with a community to succeed (i.e. don’t try and be the smartest person on your own).  There is one bit in particular that suprised me.  At the end of the article there are a few startup proverbs that Freeman has developed from his experience as an entrepreneur.  One of them involves new ideas:

If your idea is really unique, you’re doomed. The market is either too far behind you, or it’s too small.

Now I think about what I’ve been told about great ideas and innovations- and most simply it is that they are something new.  Whenever I come up with an idea and share it, I feel others evaluate it on how fresh it is.  Are there others in that space? Would it seem cool? Would it create value? 

This cuts right in the heart of that.

And you think about it a bit and it feels like it makes sense.  Before Apple, there was Xerox PARC (and whoever else) making computers.  There were smartphones before the iPhone.  The iPad looked like an oversized iPod touch.  For Facebook there was Myspace and Friendster.  With Youtube, there were certainly other video sharing sites.  Each of these companies had fantastic technical innovations- but to consumers, the ideas themselves had been present in some form already- they were in part familiar. 

One of the hottest of business concepts right now- Clayton Christenson’s disruptive innovation – involves bringing a product that was only available to the wealthy or skilled to a far wider population.  The idea itself was not unique – but its packaging, interface, or technology is.

It isn’t hard to try and think up products that were truly unique- that came out and were wildly successful.  But I think what is important in the short statement above is that it refocuses your attention to the market and the possibility that you may be too far ahead of it– a scary thought, but wholly possible especially at the edge of innovation- where tinkerers are thinking of all sorts of combinations of new technologies to form products.  You could make something amazing, but only a handful of people would buy into it.

It shouldn’t be frightening. I feel that if there is solid communication with customers, and perhaps even encouraging some democratized (open) innovation, a niche product could develop gain a wider acceptance.