The Number One Reason Most Good Ideas Fail

The late fee was more than the disc would have cost to buy. Reed Hastings had misplaced his Apollo 13 rental DVD, and now that he found it and returned it six weeks later, Blockbuster was telling him he owed $40. Later that day, frustrated over the fee, he had an idea. As Fast Company tells the story,

On the way to the gym, he wondered why video stores didn’t operate like health clubs, charging a flat membership fee. The light-bulb moment prompted Hastings to buy a bunch of DVDs and mail them to himself to see if they would travel safely through the mail.

“I opened them up, and they were fine,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God. This is gonna work! This is gonna work!’” Hastings founded Netflix in 1997.

Thirteen years later, Blockbuster, which had continued to ride the long tail of late fees, filed for bankruptcy.


Launching a successful idea begins with responding to need.

Reed Hastings had a source of un-peace. His frustration revealed a kink in the system, a problem with the current way of doing things.

When I worked in the publishing industry, one of my jobs was to decide which manuscripts to turn into books. Because my job performance was to be based on my ability to grow my imprint’s revenue, I didn’t want to publish purely on personal whim, so I began to do some research. One of the first things I learned was that the reason most books – and most fresh ideas and creative initiatives and new launches – fail is because there’s not enough of a problem for the solution it offers.

Sadly, many people make the fatal decision to invest critical, precious time and money into ideas that are doomed for lack of this basic requirement: Need. Here it is in chart form:

startups fail

Most ideas fail because there’s no market need.

Not enough people care.

So what to do? Two things.


First, when planning and strategizing, identify the market need.

The market need is different than the more commonly researched “felt need.” Felt need is the emotional or psychological reaction that someone feels which drives their decision-making and actions.

Market need is broader; it is the “hole in the market.”

What commonly held problem to which your idea is the solution?

If you want to write a book, what is the missing topic in the literature you hope to fill. Would you want to read your own book idea on the topic you’re considering?

If you want to innovate and create in your church, what is the biggest problem that inhibits regular worship and church life, or prevents visitors from coming back?

If you want to craft a sermon series, what human condition does your gospel message fix?

When people ask me whether or not I think their book idea has legs, I point them to market need. It’s one of the most difficult hurdles to jump.


Second, don’t move on your idea until you have clear answers to these four questions.

When you’re considering a new, creative idea, ask yourself and your teammates a few questions:

  • What is the problem we’re addressing here?
  • Is it big enough of a problem that there’s actually a “hole in the market”?
  • Will people see the idea as a viable solution?
  • Will they be able to understand the idea easily enough to want to engage with it?


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).