For the past few years, my son has been repeating that he wants to be an inventor, and he’s been coming up with all kinds of crazy ideas – like many kids do. What’s great about childhood, is that all your ideas work instantly – because kids can’t quite tell the difference between dreams, ideas and reality. But my son is now 11, and he is starting to put his ideas to work, and “real reality” kicks in. Paper airplanes fly, but they’re not real enough anymore. He tried cardboard, but they are too wobbly. When he makes them out of wood, they’re too heavy. Either way, they don’t fly.
Many people, not just kids, have this misconception that success comes from having a brilliant idea. I have been lucky enough to talk to many founders of successful (and not so successful) start-ups. I don’t know too many who were successful with their original idea. And in many cases, their success isn’t this super original idea either. Apple did not invent the mouse, Google did not invent the search engine, YouTube did not invent video sharing on the web. What these three companies did is they made something much better than before, thanks to not one, but a myriad of good ideas – and they judiciously abandoned many not so good ideas on the way.
That’s why innovating isn’t so much about ideas but about iterations, failures, and learning fast from failures. Regularly, someone external approaches me to sell me their “idea”. I’ve seen some people sending me a 40 page document describing their idea. I’m not interested in buying ideas. We have far too many ideas already that we’ll never have the time to try, and I doubt any idea, even a 40 page idea, would work as is. There’s a reason Thomas Edison said: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”. What I value is teams of people who have achieved something. Because that’s where the value of innovation lies – in the perspiration – in the wonderful journey of getting out there, testing something, observing, making decisions, rallying the team around these sometimes hard decisions, and executing fast to release the next version.
Son, if you want to be an inventor, don’t be shy, try your ideas, observe what works and what doesn’t, fix or drop what’s broken, improve what works, and don’t give up. Your plane will fly one day, and it’ll be a heck of a plane!
By Eric Tholomé
Eric is Product Management Director at Google, currently in charge of the Merchant experience for Google Shopping. Previously, he has worked on or lead a number of Google products, including Gmail, YouTube, Google Apps, Google Cloud Platform, Google Wallet. Earlier on, he also worked on the Palm Treo, the Handspring Visor, and GSM networks (at a time when the most optimistic forecasts were betting on 25% adoption!). Eric is passionate about great product design and innovation, particularly in the high tech sector. When he isn’t at Google or spending time with his wife and three children, he likes to travel and build smart homes. Eric has studied & lived in France, the Silicon Valley, Germany and Switzerland, and published a few books on telecommunications & music.