3 ways to screw up your next Really Big Idea

The last time I was involved in the comeuppance of the next Really Big Idea, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company ended up owning it. Well, that's because it involved renting out their motorcycles, so I guess it was a foregone conclusion. But we'll get back to that later.

In 1996, my husband and I became involved with a group of "regular guys" from New England who came up with the notion to get Harley talking to Budget Car Rentals about a Big Idea. Why not add Harleys to Budget's fleet of rental offerings and let us run the operation. BAM! We had an instant phenomenon that went viral. And this was before the internet went completely mainstream, when people were still asking about web pages, "What's the point?"

In technology terms, we were still light years away from social networking. News of budding Hog rental outlets went wild and people would stop us on the streets to ask how they could "get in" by buying a franchise.

It was exhilarating.

It was heady.

It was scary.

Within months of moving to Daytona, Florida to kick off the first Grand Opening, the guys from New England and their new concept would be written about in major publications like The Wall Street Journal, Playboy Magazine, USA Today, and the like. The company, American Road Collection, was even the subject of a Jeopardy question. On the night the episode aired I thought,

"Wow. For a bunch of jamokes from the littlest state in the union, this has to be a sign that we've made it!"
What was made was a lot of publicity for the Motor Company, amazing memories for riders, and introductions to the concept for many groups who would later break into the business in partnership with Harley. It's not that the concept hadn't been thought of before, but that no one thought to bring two giants together and get authorization to operate under their iconic brand umbrella.

And now if you try to google American Road Collection it'll lead you to a lot of hits, but they will no longer lead you to the company.

The following is written with a disclaimer: As an observer and participant who stood on the outside of the more top-level decisions, my observations are just that.

Notes from the field - How to screw up your Big Idea

Big Idea Screwup #1
Don't decide, right from the start, whether you want to simply be an idea generator or take the concept all the way through and then some. It's not important to think about whether you want to make your own brand or just make money by borrowing someone else's.
Sure, getting Harley talking to Budget made the business a huge attention-grabber. But once the giants began advertising the concept, forward momentum started a steamroll that ran its own course. American Road Collection gave their business a very respectable run but got caught in the dust and noise of the giants. How do you avoid this? Ensure that your own brand is carried forward in the momentum of the giant's media strategy. Make sure they take your brand name on their ride, and that you negotiate a prominent seat on their party train.

Big Idea Screwup #2:
Don't protect your idea beyond its implementation.
Sometimes a Big Idea is born and that's where a whole lot energy is expended. Thinking beyond the initial launch may have been done in the business plan, but maybe you sabotage yourself by secretly believing that the idea won't really take off. Don't be foolish. It's just as important to emotionally prepare yourself for the long haul if you want to stay in the game, and assume the idea will succeed into the next 10 years.
Plan B? Engineer your graceful exit when you're through with the launch phase and have passed it on to the next torch bearer, and determine what you'd like to take with you. Is it simply the experience? Start publicizing your Rainmaker credentials early and take advantage of opportunities to learn best practices for launching your next Big Idea.

Big Idea Screwup #3:
Don't become indispensable to those who use the idea.

Ok, so you've got a great plan that's guaranteed to go viral and have decided it's ok to borrow someone else's brand umbrella to kick it off. Start working your way into becoming indispensable to the movement you've started. Establish your voice as THE leader so that when this particular gig doesn't work out, you're still the person in the know. Start your blog now, especially for a brick and mortar business, because the internet is where people in the business will seek out the resources and knowledge. Push your personal brand to the forefront by creating accounts in your own name with a clear tie-in to the business.
Finally, and on the other hand, consider this:
Maybe you're "just" an Idea Person.
If that's the case, and you value the creative spirit more than the glory, then forget all of those suggestions and just keep churning them out and watcing them catch on. Because sometimes that's where you'll find the best fun.
Meanwhile, until my next Big Idea takes off, I get to write blog posts about "when I used to be a playah".

1 comment:

  1. This is pretty interesting in the space of the development of some of your newer ideas. It feels like there's a second half to this post, the yang filling in the rest of the circle.

    How do things change if the purpose of your big idea is *you* and not *the idea*?

    Delighted to read you.