Why good ideas sometimes fail

Poor ideas are often poor because the circumstances around them haven’t been fully explored.

As a result: we believe the idea itself is bad despite the fact the surrounding circumstances or environment are the factors that are actually bad.

We see examples of this often in history: the invention of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone only came to fruition after many other inventors tried doing something similar. One of the crucial elements their telephone systems lacked which Bell did not was the state of electromagnetic transmitters and receivers.

For example, 42 years before Bell was able to create an electronic, working telephone, Antonio Meucci had already created a working system of communicating between a stage and control room of a theatre using a pipe-telephone system.

In 1854, 22 years before Bell patented his telephone design, inventor Charles Bourseul had already imagined the ideal communication system. Bourseul wrote: “Suppose that a man speaks near a movable disc sufficiently flexible to lose none of the vibrations of the voice; that this disc alternately makes and breaks the currents from a battery: you may have at a distance another disc which will simultaneously execute the same vibrations…. It is certain that, in a more or less distant future, speech will be transmitted by electricity.”

Bourseul’s words describe almost perfectly what Bell later ended-up creating.

It’s worth noting that at nearly the exact same time (some argue even before) as Bell’s invention of the telephone, Elisha Gray created the same system but lost the patent to Bell and his team later on.

The telephone, as Meucci, Bourseul, Gray, Bell, and countless others before them envisioned, was absolutely a good idea. But it wasn’t until Gray and Bell had access to the modern technologies that would make the telephone so elegant to design, as well as ideally functional, that the idea came to fruition.

When considering our own ideas, we must consider the circumstances that allow it or hinder it to become a successful reality. When possible: changing the concept to meet what is possible today can turn the idea into more of a worthwhile endeavor.

A simpler example of this point is the concept of a time machine: Building a time machine is a poor idea because it’s not realistically feasible to do today. We simply don’t understand enough about time or space to create any type of machine that would allow us to travel through it.

It’s a fun idea, but certainly not a feasible one, therefore it would be ridiculous to dedicate oneself to working on a time machine today. Or would it?

By looking at the answers as to why an idea isn’t feasible, we can improve the idea itself as well as predict how it might change in the future.

Similar to how Bourseul predicted that the telephone which Bell would create years later would function through electromagnetic pulses.

To put this concept into practice we simply need to look at our own ideas, particularly ones we may have tried working on but failed.

When we look at those ideas and ask “why” they failed, we begin to shine light onto the circumstances that made it so. We may, in our exploration of reasons, realize the idea was actually good and worthwhile, simply unfeasible at the time.

Sometimes the process of asking and answering “why” means the idea evolves into something unexpected. As artists, inventors, and creators, we need to be open to following that rabbit hole wherever it may lead.

To look at our ideas and ask “why might this fail today?” we can either predict how they might succeed in the future, but we can also begin to see where we can make changes to the idea in order for it to succeed today.

When you’re faced with an idea that seems less-than-great, try asking yourself why it feels that way (then keep asking “why”). You’ll wind-up in a place where the idea makes more sense and is feasible.

Read this next: Creativity as intelligence and day dreaming

Dream photo by Moyan Brenn. Lego time machine photo by Alex Eylar.