One thing every product concept has in common is that its inventor is convinced they've got a great idea. And they often do. However, that doesn't mean that every idea will work.
There are a lot of steps in the innovation process, moving from concept to commercialization, and plenty of ways things can go wrong. Smart innovators therefore seek to find the weak points in their concepts and their business models as early as possible, when it's cheap and easy to pivot. That is: good innovators work to fail fast.
As an innovator, there are some simple questions you should be asking yourself
- Does the underlying technology that you want to use actually exist?
- Do you understand the underlying principles?
- Can it be manufactured?
- Are there any regulatory roadblocks to making or selling this product?
One of the first steps in vetting your inventive idea is to make sure you have a solid grasp of the underlying principles. If you're doing all your technology development yourself, congratulations. If you're using technology developed by someone else, you need to make sure the technology actually exists. It's surprising how many would-be innovators get caught out on this one. Seeing a video on YouTube or reading a website doesn't count as confirming that the technology exists. You need to be able to buy it from reputable sources, and ideally have acquired a sample and tested it. You also need a basic understanding of how the technology works, so that you can identify weak points in your concept and successfully integrate the technology in your product.
Manufacturing is another area where many inventors and entrepreneurs get tripped up. There are many potential pitfalls, such as attempting to welding dissimilar metals, designing assemblies that cannot be assembled together, too-complex shapes for injection-molded plastic parts, or unusually-specified raw materials with long lead times and high prices. Bringing onboard an industrial engineer, or experts in the planned manufacturing processes, early in the engineering design will often avoid many costly mistakes.
The last common mistake that I see inventors and innovators make is neglecting to check that they have the legal right to sell their product. Patents, trademarks on words and logos, and federal and state regulations related to your specific materials, markets, or industry can cause months or even years of delays. Whatever you're inventing, take the time to understand the legal landscape that you'll be operating in.
It's OK to fail at your first idea; lots of seemingly good ideas won't pan out the way you hope. Find those weaknesses early and cheaply—fail fast—then pivot, and keep moving forward.
Posted by Thomas Hopper on Permanent link for Why great innovations fail on January 20, 2023.