You ever have one of those ideas that floats around, just kind of dancing in your brain, eager to be released? You can coax the idea to calm down for a little while by saying “Ok, I’ll let you out, but I have to have this one thing in order first. I want you to be a success!” And so your idea calmly sits while you prepare. It’s not long afterwards that your idea gets anxious again, and you have to encourage it to calm down once more. And this cycle repeats. Why?
I’ll tell you why. We have this fear that if everything is not just right, our idea is going to fall flat on its face. We lose too much while waiting for the “right time”. However, by waiting we’re only building more anxiety that our idea must be perfect when it is released. We need to spend less time with our ideas “on the ground” and get more of our ideas soaring “in the air”.
In 1966, a shoe store opened in Anaheim, California. They saw 16 people walk in the store that first day and 12 of them made a purchase, and yet the shoe store didn’t have a single shoe in the store. They had samples of the different styles, but nothing the customers could leave with right then. Instead, the customer placed an order, the store would get to work making the shoes, and the customer could pick them up later that day.
The store only operated like this for the first couple days, but the owners simply couldn’t wait to open. The doors were flung open as soon as the store could be open, there wasn’t time to wait on actually having shoes. In fact, the shoe samples didn’t even have names. They were just design numbers like #44 or #20.
And that is how Vans started.
You see, Paul Van Doren, James Van Doren, Gordon Lee, and Serge D’Elia didn’t want to wait until everything was perfect. They wanted to get their idea out there so it could breathe and run and live.
If we twist the story just a little, we begin to see the brilliance. We’ve already seen what happens if they open early and succeed, but there are three other parallel universes out there.
- Parallel Universe #1: They open early and fail. No harm, no foul. They don’t have a surplus of shoes that they need to unload or wear for the rest of their lives. Not as bad an outcome as bad outcomes go.
- Parallel Universe #2: They wait until they craft all their shoes and succeed. This is a boring story because there is nothing surprising about it. Nobody took a chance. This is like following the on-box directions for macaroni and cheese. No one is surprised when it comes out as macaroni and cheese. This is routine and nothing of note can be gained here. Move along.
- Parallel Universe #3: They wait until they craft all their shoes and fail. This is the evil timeline. They lose a ton in this version of the story. Money, time, materials. Think of all the extra shoes that they can’t sell! In this universe, all their cousins and nieces and nephews are cautious around birthdays. “Uncle Paul is coming? He’s probably going to give me another pair of those shoes again.”
By opening the doors early, they ran the best chances at success. And this will please all you managers out there, by opening early they mitigated the most risk. They had an opportunity to validate their ideas before spending resources to make the idea perfect.
That’s what we’ve got to do as innovators. We may have an idea that we’re sure will flip the market on its ear and make the world a better place to live in. But the longer it is just an idea, the more time the market has to catch up or diverge. There is nothing worse than spending years on an innovation to launch it and have the market say “This solution exists already” or “We don’t need this solution anymore because the problem has changed.”
If you need further convincing about opening your “idea doors” early, you don’t even have to leave Anaheim. Just travel back in time from Vans in 1966, to Disneyland in 1955.
As the gates opened for the first time on July 17th, Disneyland faced these problems and more:
- some trees had just been planted
- some of the paint was still wet
- counterfeit tickets doubled the number of guests expected
- water fountains didn’t work because a plumber strike meant only the bathrooms would be functional
- the asphalt on Main Street had only been poured the night before
The myriad of challenges Walt and his team faced on Day One were used as a learning opportunity. A chance to figure out what wasn’t working. Shouldn’t we afford our ideas the same chance? The same opportunity to learn and grow from the challenges? We’re supposed to be embracing failure, so let your ideas out into the sun!
I’ll close with the words of the immortal bard, Shia LaBeouf. “Don’t let your dreams be dreams. Yesterday you said tomorrow so just do it. Make your dreams come true.”
Go forth! Be Awesome! Feed your furnace!
- What idea has been living in your head for too long?
- What can you do today to get it out into the world?
- What can you learn from sharing it with someone right now?