Chris Dixon: Good Ideas That Seem Like Bad Ideas

Chris Dixon: Good Ideas That Seem Like Bad Ideas

Chris Dixon is an entrepreneur and a partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz so he sees thousands of ideas—some that look like good ideas and some that look like bad ideas. Dixon started with a Venn diagram created by Peter Thiel. Thiel points out that the sweet spot for start-ups was the space where good ideas seem like bad ideas.

Historically good ideas that seemed like bad ideas at the time include:

  • The telephone— “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” – Western Union internal memo, 1876
  • The radio– “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” – David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
  • The automobile—“The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad”–Advice from a president of the Michigan Savings Bank to Henry Ford’s lawyer Horace Rackham.
  • The airplane– “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” – Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
  • TV—“Television? The word is half Latin and half Greek. No good can come of it”–C. P. Scott, BBC History of television
  • The computer– “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” – Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
  • The Beatles– “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out” – Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
  • The Personal computer– “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home” – Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
  • FedEx– “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.” – A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
  • iPhone—“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share”–Steve Ballmer, USA Today, April 30, 2007

These are all good ideas that seemed like bad ideas to the decision-makers at the time. Before we berate those fools who said such idiotic things about such obviously good ideas, what was your first response to these recent ventures that are now very successful? Be honest. Did you recognize them as good ideas?

  • Airbnb—renting out a spare room
  • eBay—selling online what you used to sell at garage sales
  • Skype—“Hey, it’s cool but the picture keeps freezing”
  • Twitter—“What can you say in 140 characters?”
  • Lyft—“Private taxi using personal vehicle?”
  • Flickr—“Why would people want to make their photos public?”
  • Facebook—“Why would I want to put my personal life online?”

Chris Dixon says that to discover the intersection of GITLLBI you’ve got to know the secret. A secret is “what you believe that few other people believe.” Here is his secret to having a breakthrough idea:

  • Know the tools better than anyone else—what are the tools of your trade?
  • Know the problems better than anyone else—what do people want to do that they are currently not able to do?
  • Draw from your own life experience / background—what insight do you have from the nature of people, the constraints of ministry as it is currently conceived?

Dixon goes on to explain characteristics of GITLLBIs:

  • Powerful people will often dismiss them as toys—think about the telephone and airplane
  • GITLLBIs unbundle the functions done by others—Newspapers are unbundled to create new online offerings. Craig’s List replacing classified ads, Twitter feeds replacing the headlines, etc. MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) aren’t intended to replace the university experience but only an unbundled slices of that experience—coursework, tests and grading. MOOCs do not replace the social experience and networking, credentialing, job recruiting, intramural / sports participation, clubs, etc.
  • They often originate as hobbies
    • Homebrew computer club was Steve Jobs and Steve Wazniak’s hobby
    • Blogs were hobby
    • Web was hobby
    • Open source coding was a hobby
    • Multi-site churches were started as a temporary solution not a strategy
    • Lifechurch.tv’s YouVersion of the Bible started as hobby and is now used by over 130 million people

    Is there a way that that you, as a ministry leader, can look at ideas through the GITLLBI lens? Could “church” (like the university) be unbundled into the different layers that make up church? What are the layers that comprise a fully functioning healthy church? Could you get more traction by unbundling this experience? Do you know anyone who would be willing to give it a try? Think of things that you are currently dismissing as a bad idea, a novelty or a toy that might really be a good idea. When your first response is, “That will never work,” instead of dismissing the idea maybe that thought should be your invitation to dive in and explore the possibilities.

    Leadership Network’s approach is to help identify ideas / practices that are on the periphery (and maybe dismissed by others) and help churches bring them to the center, creating new norms that are more effective in helping people experience life as God designed it. If you find yourself thinking about life and ministry differently I encourage you to check out what LN can do for you. Go here to discover more.

    Summary written by Eric Swanson of Leadership Network. Used by permission.


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