The X Factor: Do You Have an Idea Worth Fighting For?

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“Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation.” — Milan Kundera

Great ideas have the X factor.  But, what is the X factor?

It’s that elusive, hard-to-predict quality of a thing that people go nuts about.

It’s why some ideas take off, and others don’t.

Whenever you think you have an idea or an innovation, you need to see if it has the X factor, otherwise, the idea might not be worth fighting for.

And the X factor is an emotional thing.   A small subset of the population falls in love with your idea right up front, even if others hate it, or think the quality sucks.

But don’t depend on friends and family to tell you if the idea is any good.  You need to see what people actually do with your idea.  That’s what counts.

In the book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, Scott Adams (the genius behind Dilbert), shares his insight into what he learned about the X factor.

The Poor Quality of the Product Makes No Difference

Ideas that stick don’t start off flawless.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life:

“To illustrate my point, consider the history of cell phones.  Early cell phones had bad reception all the time.  They dropped calls.  They had few features.  They were expensive.  They didn’t fit in your pocket.  Yet cell phones were successful, at least in terms of demand, on day one.  Despite the many flaws of cell phones – flaws that lasted decades – demand started brisk and stayed strong.  The poor quality of the product makes no difference.  Cell phones started as a small success and grew.”

Things that Will Work Out Well, Start Out Well

You can’t quit everything you start, or you’ll never get over the humps.  But not all humps are created equal.  Even the little humps up front show signs of potential.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life:

“My guideline for deciding when to quit is informed by a lifetime of trying dozens of business ideas, most of them failures.  I’ve also carefully observed others struggling with the stay-or-quit decision. There have been times I stuck with bad ideas for far too long out of a misguided sense that persistence is a virtue.  The pattern I notice was this:  Things that will someday work out well start out well.  Things that will never work start out bad and stay that way.  What you rarely see is a stillborn failure that transmogrifies into a stellar success.  Small successes can grow into big ones, but failures rarely grow into successes.”

Computers are a Great Example

Computers didn’t start off for the masses.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life:

“The first personal computers were slow, expensive, non-intuitive, and crash prone.  And still the demand was explosive.”

The iPhone is a Great Example

The quality of the first iPhone was not so great.  But the customer reaction was.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life:

“Consider the iPhone.  The first version was a mess, yet it was greeted with an almost feverish enthusiasm.  That enthusiasm, and the enormous sales that followed, funded improvements until the product became superb.”

Customers Clamor for the Bad Version Before the Good Version Exists

Future success leaves breadcrumbs in the present.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life:

“In each of these examples, the quality of the early products was a poor predictor of success.  The predictor is that customers were clamoring for the bad versions of the product before the good versions were even invented.  It’s as if a future success left bread crumbs that were visible in the present.”

People Pick Up on the X Factor Right Away

The X factor is the hard-to-predict quality that makes the public go nuts about it.  People sense it right away.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life:

“Back to my point, the enthusiasm model, if I may call it that, is a bit like the X factor.  It’s the elusive and hard-to-predict quality of a thing that makes some percentage of the public nuts about it.  When the X factor is present, the public – or some subset of the public – picks up on it right away.  For the excited few, the normal notion of what constitutes quality don’t apply.  In time, the products that inspire excitement typically evolve to have quality too.  Quality is one of the luxuries you can afford when the marketplace is spraying money in your direction and you have time to tinker.”

The Best Way to Detect the X Factor

The best way to detect the X Factor is to watch what people do with your idea.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life:

“One of the best ways to detect the X Factor is to watch what customers do about your idea or product, not what they say.  People tend to say what they think you want to hear or what they think will cause least pain.”

Know When to Quit

You need to know when to quit.   If your idea doesn’t start off well, it may never take off.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life:

“You might be tempted to think that sometimes an idea with no X factor and no enthusiastic fans can gain those qualities over time.  I’m sure it’s happened, but I can’t think of tan example in my life.  It’s generally true that no one is excited about your art/product/idea in the beginning, they never will be.”

Do You Have an Idea Worth Fighting For?

If your work inspires excitement and action, you just might have the X Factor.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life:

“If the first commercial version of your work excites no one to action, it’s time to move on to something different.  Don’t be fooled by the opinions of friends and family.  They’re all liars.  If your work inspires some excitement and some action from customers, get ready to chew through some walls.  You might have something worth fighting for.”

That is perhaps some of the greatest insight.

Just because your idea may not be the best in quality, it doesn’t mean it won’t catch fire.

But look for the spark before you waste time trying to kindle the flames.

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Image by rocor.

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