When Good Companies Have Bad Ideas

This morning, we published the capstone of our "Killer Ideas" series that solicited the best new products from companies like Google and Under Armour, universities, and venture capital firms. We sought young ideas that hadn't reached the tipping point or become mainstream phenomena. That's how we ended up with a futuristic roster of innovations: a cancer flashlight, a shirt that measures your heart rate, and leaves that turn sunlight into fuel. In other words, we sought ideas that might or might not turn out to be, technically speaking, "killer."

The difference between a brilliant idea and an utter failure is that squishiest benchmark in business: the whim of customers. Tons of ideas look brilliant before you put them in front of somebody with a wallet, choices, and status quo prejudices. Take Google Wave, for example. It was a work of genius. It was going to change email. It was going to revolutionize online communications. Then it launched, and it did none of those things, because nobody knew how to use it, and it turned out that people like their email just fine the way it is.

In short, sometimes great companies have bad ideas.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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