When I first heard of the video app Vine, I wondered what would’ve happened if someone who worked at a media company had pitched the same idea internally. After all, it only records six seconds of video?
Even outside a media company, the idea wasn’t embraced by everyone. “What a stupid idea,” thought entrepreneur Dustin Curtis when he saw an early glimpse of Vine last year. “I couldn’t see it ever succeeding.” Vine is currently ranked as the #1 social networking app on iTunes.
Curtis said he also saw a prototype of an “app for browsing catalogs,” which he also deemed as a stupid idea. That one became Pinterest.
“For some reason, my first reaction to their earliest attempts wasn’t to give them the benefit of the doubt – it was to immediately find problems and then dismiss their ideas,” Curtis explains in a wonderfully honest blog post.
For people who work at media companies, does that sound familiar? I don’t even want to fathom how many breakthrough ideas have been shot down in newsroom meetings, brainstorm sessions and executive boardrooms. I’m sure I’m responsible for shooting down a few myself, confusing my experience doing things the old way as a magical ability to predict the future.
“I have found that return and ridicule are highly correlated over the years,” writes VC Fred Wilson. “We have made more money on things that were highly ridiculed than on any other cohort. When I see people laughing at ideas and companies we have backed, I smile. It means we are going to make a lot of money on that investment.”
These crazy ideas tend to be the most disruptive, as we’ve read in Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma. “The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a toy,” explains entrepreneur and investor Chris Dixon, referring to Christensen’s theory. Executives who hear a pitch for a new idea react instinctively from their view of the business: the more disruptive the idea, the harsher the reaction.
“There still is a blind and bold arrogance,” said a recently-departed newspaper ad executive writing anonymously in Digiday. “By their very own design, [newspapers] are built for an extremely top-down decision-making process and [are] tremendously inefficient for today’s marketplace from all facets.”
Not just inefficient, but it’s how media companies inadvertently kill great ideas. We must keep our arrogance in check, suppress our experience and listen openly to crazy-sounding ideas. And not only that, but empower others in the organization to act on new ideas with the most minimum of approvals. Let’s reduce the friction and turn “stupid ideas” into prototypes and the best into new businesses.