I recently flew back from a business trip to Tokyo and on the 12 hour return flight I watched the film “The Social Network”. Most people will know that this film is an account of the birth of Facebook and the legal battles over the intellectual property it represented. While it’s an entertaining film in its own right it got me thinking about why some ideas explode into massive commercial successes while others crash and burn, or worse, never even fly.
On the surface Mark Zuckerberg’s kernel of an idea was a simple one; put the college social experience online and allow it to network into a digital community. It had been tried before with moderate success but never on the scale, and with the speed, of Facebook. In a few short months it had gone viral and today stands as one of the largest successes in the digital domain.
In my mind what separated Facebook from similar ventures was the simplicity of the idea. It was not trying to be all things to all people. It tried to do one thing well, in a way that had not been tried before. As for Facebook, other business ventures which revolved around a simple, innovative and well executed idea, have seemed to succeed where others have failed.
As an example, I have owned numerous mp3 players since around 2000. My first one was small, high tech, sexy and nearly impossible to figure out. After several weeks of trying it was relegated to a drawer and has not seen the light of day since. Eventually someone showed me an ipod and, without a manual, or even a verbal instruction, I was able to figure out how to use it. I then went out and bought one for myself and one for each of my kids. That was about a dozen ipod models ago. Simple idea, well executed.
In business we have a tendency to get so bogged down in the details of what we are trying to do that we sometimes create a situation or product which is so complex, so unwieldy and so elaborate that only we, its creators, know how or wish to use it. I know that this is a bit of stating the obvious but maybe we need an occasional reality check whereby we ask ourselves if what we are aiming for is something that we would use if we were the consumer instead of the creator.
Maybe a well executed, simple idea has the potential to outstrip a useful but unduly complex one. And just maybe we need to remind ourselves of that occasionally. Well, I’m off to go listen to my ipod now, having finished typing this on my macbook….and wait…is that my iphone ringing?