Friday, August 17 , 2018, 10:39 pm | Fair 69º


Paul Burri: Great Ideas That Didn’t Work — The First Time

Just because an idea didn’t work once doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying again

I live with a curse. I’m cursed with good ideas. And worse yet, I’m not afraid to put them out there. OK, OK, not all of them are so great, but I think many of them are worth considering.

I think it all comes from my ability to do what they call “think outside the box.” Tell me that we need to paint the place blue, and I’ll ask, “Why not red?” Tell me to bet on black, and I’m sure to wonder whether red might not be a better idea. Tell me that it looks good this way, and I’m sure to wonder what it would like if we turned it around — or upside down, or inside out. It’s a curse.

So there I am sitting in a meeting and suddenly I will pipe up with some crazy idea (or perhaps not all that crazy). And then guess what often happens? Somebody is sure to respond with, “Yeah, we tried that once and it didn’t work.”

So that’s it? One time and never again? Did you like Brussels sprouts the first time you tried them? (OK, not a great example there.) How about the first time you tried to walk on stilts? (Maybe not another good example.) To my mind, just because an idea didn’t work once when you tried it, doesn’t mean that it was a bad idea or that it’s not worth trying again — especially if the original circumstances have changed.

When did you try that idea? Fifteen years ago? Two months ago? Why didn’t it work? Did you analyze the failure? Was it before we had the Internet? Were its wings too short? Was it the wrong color? Was the price too high? Did you try it on the wrong audience? What circumstances have changed since you tried it the last time?

Believe me, I’ve had lots of unsuccessful ideas. Ideas that didn’t work. Or ideas that were only partly successful. But I have never given up on any of them completely. They are always in the back of my mind, waiting for things to change that will make them successful the second time around.

When I had my business, I had a file folder full of failed ideas that I would look at from time to time. Even when I still couldn’t see a reason to resurrect the idea, I would sometimes get a new idea from looking at my unsuccessful ones. This makes me remember one of the rules of brainstorming. In a brainstorming session, you are not allowed to denigrate or laugh at any idea. Why not? Because you can never tell when someone’s crazy idea (or bad idea) will spark a great idea in someone else.

I once was in a meeting discussing a ground-launched missile. We were exploring ways to limit the range of the missile to about 250 miles. All sorts of ideas were put out, such as reducing the size of its fuel tank, blowing it up after a certain amount of flight time, etc. Then I stood up and jokingly suggested we attach it to a 250-mile-long steel cable. (Of course, this was ridiculous because even a one-mile cable would weigh more than the missile itself.) Everyone laughed and enjoyed the joke.

Years later, someone invented a thing called a TOW missile, which carried its own control cable that unwound as it went. My idea? Surely not. But see what I mean?

“We tried it once and it didn’t work.” OK, let’s try it again.

[Note: Last week’s column was intended to be satirical only and did not intend to refer to any existent local government agency. Any similarity between the references and actual agencies was purely accidental.]

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He has been a counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) for the past eight years. SCORE offers free business counseling to local businesses. He is also the membership director of the Channel City Camera Club. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul.

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