The REAL Innovators Dilemma

Do something different. Challenge the status quo. Don’t build something that already exists. Stop building features, build products that move people. Be innovative. Be first. Be unique. This is the pressure and scrutiny of every single idea that gets floated by every single entrepreneur in the world. It is a lot to ask yet there are some that succeed in breaking through by making something new and make us wonder how we ever lived without it.

There are lots of entrepreneurs that have done this and along the way they’ve faced incredible criticism and ridicule because of their ideas. As someone who has started businesses I understand this acutely. Seeing things slightly or radically different than everyone else makes people uneasy. Change is difficult to see and to rationalize but it happens all the time.

The real innovator’s dilemma isn’t limited to disruptive technologies that dethrone incumbents — you have to get to that point first. It is in the criticism that casts self doubt on something that is different and derails the confidence of the entrepreneur before an idea is fully expressed.

Remember when experts wondered why anyone would ever need a computer on their desk? Remember when no one would ever sign up for streaming music services? Remember when the same was said for streaming video services? Think back to when no one would ever submit their credit card information online or when the idea of renting someone else’s home for a night or getting in a car with a stranger was insane. The ideas were revolutions. The criticism was based on the conventional approach. All you have to do is look at where we are to understand how those “radical” ideas turned out. They are accepted and imprinted on us and are now normal behaviours. Not so crazy after all.

If the founders of each of these companies had listened to the pundits talk about their businesses they would have given up and gone off to work in the government. Ours would be a mundane world of bureaucrats and paper work not missions to Mars. Change makes people uncomfortable, it also makes them critics.

Everyone’s a critic.

People see things differently and upending normal will bring detractors and naysayers. Entrepreneurs need to remain resolute on their path and ignore the critics. If the idea is worthy, if it truly does alter our path, those critics will come around. This is easy in practice but those that think differently are often those that also suffer from self doubt and imposter syndrome. How many revolutions have been quashed by a parent or friend saying that an ideas was dumb or that it will never work. Crushing.

Not every idea is great.

That’s not to say that every idea turns into a unicorn. The fact is that even revolutionary ideas need hard work and 10 years to get anywhere. The great ones that manage to do so will be scrutinized every step of the way. They will be the crazy ones, then the darlings, then chastised for their successes and then ostracized for their monopolistic tendencies. That’s if the idea is an elite idea. Most are not but who are we to destroy dreams by offering our commentary on someone else’s vision?

Future mud pie entrepreneur (age 4)

If you have kids you understand the balance between encouragement and reality. The unfettered and unbridled imagination of children are a perfect example of wild swings. What do you say to them when they detail their next greatest invention? When my son says he’s going to sell mud pies for a living did I immediately crush his dreams at age 4? Nope. I encouraged the thinking. The idea wasn’t great (who am I to say?!?) but the fact he had that idea was.

Ideas are plentiful. Some change the world, some don’t.

But the courage to come forth with one is the thing that needs to be celebrated. I had a professor in college that would always ask for ideas. Students were tentative and would all start their explanation by saying “this is a dumb idea but…” and Professor Knowles would stop them dead in their tracks to say “there is no such thing as a dumb idea.”

So to all the critics and dream dashers and soul crushers out there that think destroying ideas builds you up and demonstrates your superiority I mean this with all sincerity — STFU.