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How To Make Innovative Ideas Happen

In one of his recent presentations, Frans Johansson explained why groundbreaking innovators generate and execute far more ideas than their counterparts. After watching his presentation The Secret Truth About Executing Great Ideas1, my thoughts began to surface about how meaningful the presentation was—regardless of a person’s industry, culture, field or discipline. Anyone can come up with an amazing idea but how you execute the idea will determine your success.

Ideation: Idea Conception Link

Coming up with an innovative idea will require some methods of generating ideas from brainstorming to mind mapping that can help conjure up useful ideas. During this process one must make sure to keep focused on a goal. If you have no goal, how will you know when you have reached the finish line and are ready for refinement? Start out with a few thoughts or themes and see what you can come up with.

Don’t get stuck on trying to come up with different variations of the same idea as you will want to develop ideas further later. While there is no exact path in ideation or other creativity techniques from start to finish, creating an idea you are happy with and feel has innovative potential is the key. Believing in your ideas innovative ability will give the confidence you will need later on during pitch time.

Disposable Cup Holder Improvement2
Is this new disposable cup holder an improvement or an innovation?

Many people have tried to innovate, but because something similar had already existed, it’s merely an improvement. When designing within familiar bounds, you can still create something amazing but your audience will not likely be astonished at the sight of it. It is easy to see the particular innovative idea as something that was so simple to come up with but if that’s the case, then why didn’t you do it? The trick is to come up with them before. That’s the challenge. Once you find that special seed of an innovative idea, try to avoid key mistakes that will stop your idea from ever seeing the light of day.

As interesting as some ideas may be, that is not always enough for consumers. Getting the message out that your new idea is imperative will gain more consumer attention, especially in more difficult economic times. Always having a short and clear value proposition with an inescapable feeling of necessity can help gain capital, exposure and consumers. Do not wait until everything is “perfect” as they may never be and this will only further delay your ideas release. Act, do not sit idle!

Nurture New Ideas Link

Think of your typical cup holder from a fast food restaurant or coffee house made of cardboard. They are rigid with no handle and have been cause of drink spills and panic attacks for years. Recently a new cup holder has come about that is more mobile and has a handle (see image above). These changes have made it easier to transport drinks and prevent spills. This idea in itself is only an improvement on what was there previously.

To truly be innovative, you should take opposing thoughts and combine them, which increases the innovative potential of your idea (see image below). Think of the invention of the Burqini3 that combines the idea of a burqa that Muslim women wear and the flexibility of a swimsuit at the beach. Innovative ideas can sometimes be explosive but many potential barriers will arise and just having an innovative idea is not always enough.

Innovative Idea Diagram
Groundbreaking and innovative ideas come from combining ideas from different industries, cultures, fields, and disciplines.

In order to take an innovative idea from the embryo of a concept to market, you need to have the determination to push through failure. The odds are against you no matter the idea and statistics say4 you are going to fail a few times on your road to success. Knowing this, you have to hedge your bets more effectively so you can adjust your path and continue forward.

Don’t be intimidated by the perceived brilliance of innovative designs, because you are typically seeing the last iteration that has changed compared to its original concept. This happens with adjustment through failure. As Johansson mentioned, Picasso had made around 20,000 (as high as 50,000) works of art in his lifetime and Einstein published 240 papers with a short number of successful creations. Innovative success happens in volume (see image below).

Idea Success Rate Diagram
Stevens, G.A. and Burley, J., “3,000 Raw Ideas = 1 Commercial Success!”

How To Pick A Successful Idea Link

Don’t put everything behind your first idea! You wouldn’t go to the racetrack and put your life savings on 1/3000 odds, would you? Even though we are taught that all innovations come from a visionary who predicted a need for the future, this is usually not the case. Naturally, most inventions come from necessity and others from creative spark. When executing a creative idea with the resources you have available, you will have to make adjustments along the way that may not have been accounted for originally. Johansson suggests that you take the smallest executable step (smallest bet) so you don’t risk everything on your original idea.

Once you define the smallest step, you know your scope of risk. This is very important because you can then take baby steps to overcome challenges and utilize resources more efficiently on your road to success (see image below). While strategy is paramount, one shouldn’t get lost in planning and take too long to execute. Stay motivated to move forward, because forward motion even through failure is the key to success.

Idea Pathway to Success Diagram
“Nearly every major breakthrough innovation has been preceded by a string of failed or misguided executions.” — Frans Johansson.

When implementing strategy, whether it is used to free up resources or define a path to move forward, do not plan on coming up with the ultimate plan that will carry your idea to the finish line. Coming up with a base and enabling yourself to act will help to get things done and eventually discover the final solution that goes to market. You will need to bring yourself to an idea intersection where you can pick and choose the best ideas. This intersection can be used to generate extraordinary, electrifying and trendsetting ideas.

Exploring Innovation Deeper Link


The Devotion of Pablo Picasso Link

Pablo Ruiz Picasso6 was a Spanish artist that had a unique talent in painting by combining different techniques, theories and ideas making him one of the most well-known figures in 20th century art. Picasso had always shown a passion for art from a very young age and was determined to express his passion to the world. Overcoming high and low barriers, he achieved much success and fortune in his life. As Pablo Ruiz Picasso said, “action is the foundational key to all success.” Continuing to move forward by taking action and not sitting idle will create momentum for success.

Early in his life, Pablo Picasso slept during the day, worked at night and persevered through poverty, cold and desperation. He was known to have burned much of his early work just to keep warm at night. Picasso motivated himself through passion to push forward and eventually made luxurious connections. Constantly updating his style from the Blue Period, to the Rose Period, to the African-influenced Period, to Cubism, to Realism and Surrealism, he was a pioneer with a hand in every art movement of the 20th century.

Picasso was extraordinarily abundant throughout his long lifetime. A skillful self-promoter, he used politics, whimsicality, and harassment as a selling tool. The total number of artworks he produced has been estimated7 at 50,000, comprising 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings, many thousands of prints, and numerous tapestries and rugs. From all of these works, only a few dozen have been regarded as a great success, leaving thousands in museums for viewing after his death and even more collecting dust. Picasso dedicated his life to art and has very influential with his portrayal of Cubism.


Frank Epperson’s Juice on a Stick Link

Frank Epperson9 was an average American who at a young age discovered a “frozen drink on a stick” that would later become an innovative idea. In his life he dabbled in real estate before discovering how to take his idea to market.

At the age of 11 Frank Epperson invented the “Epsicle” that is now known as the “Popsicle”. He was mixing powdered soda with water to make soda pop and accidentally left the mixing bucket outside on an unusually cold night. During the night the mixture froze solid, with the wooden stirring stick standing straight up. There was one huge problem: you can’t start an Epsicle production line on your back porch because the weather didn’t allow for such a thing. Epperson overcame this hurdle by gaining access to a commercial freezer, stamped his name on the sticks and wanted to sell his idea.

Unfortunately for Epperson, ice-cream makers were not interested and he did not share his idea again until a fireman’s ball years later. He pushed through rejection and failure without burying all of his resources until he had achieved a solid idea. While he discovered this wonderful treat early on in life, it took him 16 years to introduce the idea and 7 years more to sell his Popsicle patent10. The popsicle can be credited for the entrance of tasty frozen deserts into the mainstream and happy children’s faces around the world. Today hundreds of millions11 of Popsicles are eaten in the United States each year, and there are more than thirty flavors available.


Alexander Graham Bell’s Modern Communication Link

Alexander Graham Bell13 was a scientist from Scotland (originally) that had always had a natural curiosity for the world. This resulted in experimentation with inventing at a young age, most notably a simple dehusking machine at age 12.

Due to the gradual deafness of his mother starting at a young age, he was led to study acoustics which eventually led to the invention of the telephone. Bell’s telephone grew out of improvements he made to the telegraph. He had invented the “harmonic telegraph” which could send more than one message at a time over a single telegraph wire. His path to success was not as clear as one might think and is surrounded by past failures and controversy.

Bell’s first serious work with sound transmission used tuning forks to explore resonance. Unfortunately, this groundbreaking undertaking had already been completed worlds away in Germany. A short change in path led Bell to transmit sound through electrical means. He experimented first by trying to transmit musical notes and articulate speech.

Alexander Graham Bell had not set any clear destination and became overwhelmed with his experiments. After many sleepless nights he created a harmonic telegraph14 which became the first stepping stone to the creation of the telephone. After entertaining other possibilities such as the phonautograph15 and sending multiple telegraph messages on a single line, Bell refined the idea of acoustic telegraphy16.

By recognizing progress and changing his path, Bell (with the help of Thomas Watson) was able to invent the sound-powered telephone17. By starting with the idea of transmitting a voice through electricity, Alexander Graham Bell was able to, through a series of refinements, invent technology that is used around the world even today. Bell continued to test out new ideas involving kites, airplanes, tetrahedral structures, sheep-breeding, artificial respiration, desalinization and water distillation, and hydrofoils.


Jack Dorsey’s Micro Communication Link

Jack Dorsey19 is an American software architect that had an interest in making “instant messenger” updates available for friends to see. This was a refined concept that eventually grew into what we now know as Twitter. Three guiding principles of this innovative idea are simplicity, constraint and craftsmanship.

Jack had an early fascination with cities and how they work, so he would always carry maps around with him. His attraction with mass-transit and how cities function led him to taking advantage of public transit databases in Manhattan. He built off of his original idea that gave meaning to his overall concept. His idea make clear though working on dispatch software, programming real-time messaging systems for couriers, taxis, and emergency vehicles.

Jack Dorsey’s experience helped him see his idea in a completely new perspective. Taking his seedling of an idea that would update friends of his status, Dorsey completed several field tests before recognizing that the technology available didn’t support his innovative idea. There are times when putting off a project is irrefutable. Jack Dorsey originally came up with his idea in the year 2000 but wasn’t able to execute effectively until 8 years later. Jack was effective in not letting his idea sit for too long but instead taking action when technology would let it thrive.

Conclusion Link

Making ideas happen isn’t easy and requires patience, determination and hard work. The most important part of it is not just coming up with a promising concept, but rather rethinking it over and over again, implementing it and then putting it to practice.

Most inventions come from necessity, so pay attention to small problems in your environment and find simple solutions to these problems. Do not sit idle on the idea — act instead. Take opposing thoughts and resolve them in your innovative designs. And keep innovating all the time, one step at a time. The time will pass, and if you have some luck, you will see your idea growing, flourishing and maybe even turning into a real success. …So what are you waiting for?

Further Resources Link

Here are further articles and related resources:

  • Five Tips For Making Ideas Happen20
    Creative types have a problem. We have so many great ideas, but most of them never see the light of day. Some creative people and teams are able to defy the odds and make their ideas happen, time and again.
  • 99 Excuses For NOT Making Ideas Happen21
    If you’re NOT doing something, what does it matter why? See what their readers feel are the most common excuses for NOT making ideas happen.
  • Executing Ideas Often is Difficult for Leaders22
    Strategy is too often just a bad joke (with allusions to Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss) among the working-level people who actually produce the products, provide the service and generate the profit.
  • How Do You Keep, Develop and Execute Ideas?23
    There are so-called serial entrepreneurs who are fond of jumping from one great execution of an idea to another. And more often than not, they gain much experience–and money–in the process.
  • Ideas Are Not Innovation24
    Continuous innovation is critical to most businesses, and your is no exception.  Innovation must be woven into the very fabric of your culture.
  • The 3 Most Common Mistakes When Growing an Idea into a Business
    Sometimes this energy and excitement can be blinding.  Some people are so tremendously passionate, yet lack the ability to take ownership and really get things done.

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Robert Hartland is a professional designer and photographer with over seven years of experience. He has worked on projects for top brands that include corporate identities, custom catalogs, trade show graphics, image manipulation, animation and website creation/management. He constantly pulls different elements he has learned, to use them to perfect a project, and accepts freelance work through his portfolio website Aether Design.

  1. 1

    Very interesting article, and very informative. The charts were a very clear interpretation of the process that goes into coming down to one successful concept. Edison, for example, was said not only to have discovered how to create a lightbulb, but first the 1,000 different ways not to make it. Again, nice article.

  2. 2

    That’s good to read this, it is inspiring, motivating and Thomas is saying very well that charts are very clear. But I think three or four stories are not enough, although its good to get a motivation boost from this and go ahead, one has to read some more success stories and ‘tragic lives of success holders’. Recently I’ve watch the documentary by Bloomberg on Steve Jobs, CEO Apple. He is a billionaire, with much successes, but also with some failures and adversities. His life is not as smooth as Bill Gate’s. So every starter / innovator should take this in mind too.

  3. 3

    anonymous (berlinerin)

    October 22, 2010 7:36 am

    “Is this new disposable cup holder an improvement or an innovation?”

    I thought it was an obscene waste of resources. But then I think bringing your own cup is both an improvement and innovation.

  4. 4

    Bruno Belluomini

    October 22, 2010 8:01 am

    Great article! Thanks!

  5. 5

    Awesome :-)

    Especially the background stories of some of the greatest minds of our world shed a very special light on innovators: the light of failure!

    Early failure leads to later success (if learned and reflected in the meanwhile and driven by passion what one truly believes)

    Thanks so much and best regards, Ralf (@LockSchuppen)

  6. 6

    Hey guys, there is a small mistake in the “Conclusion” part, it says “hard wrok” Instead of “hard work” :-)

    Brilliant article…

  7. 8

    Nicolo' Borghi

    October 22, 2010 12:52 pm

    Robert, just the other ideas we wrote about the danger of having too many ideas :)

    Here are our thoughts regarding how to avoid the “1000 ideas” syndrome

    thanks, for the article


  8. 9

    Nice article. I find that as I grow professionally, I need to instill more trust in my ideas. This is different from being confident and egotistical–both important entreprenurial traits–and is more about focus and attention. If I produce an idea and find that someone has already conceived it, I no longer lose faith in the idea, I simply redirect and take a broader view. Recent (relatively) innovations in software / web applications (Gmail, Facebook, etc) have proven that ideas that are not entirely original (search, social graph) can still reinvent a class of services and products.


    • 10

      Robert Hartland

      October 22, 2010 3:11 pm


      Being able to redirect your energy and taking small steps is key- with an innovative idea or an improved idea. I am glad that you have already realized this and are using your time and energy wisely.

  9. 11

    I like the phrase “Continuing to move forward by taking action and not sitting idle will create momentum for success”

  10. 12

    […] “this new disposable cup holder” is a shame for mankind as it is made out of fossil oil by a chance of 99% and pollutes the environment in production, by discarding and/or “recycling” (burning, melting). FFS, the capitalist system is going the hell down by its own inhabitant faults and you ponder about “How To Make Innovative Ideas Happen”. Lets pull down every border, destroy every weapon industry on the world, quit all wars, disconnect every power plant based on fossil energy including the nuclear ones, build a giant master solar plant in the sahara and start by zero for a new millenium. How about that?

    • 13

      dude, if you hate that cup holder so much why did you read the article? you know what would stick it to those capitalist pigs at smashing magazine HQ, never coming to this site again… ever. If you can’t do that then it would be great if you could keep unrelated comments like that to yourself thanks.

      great article Rob, keep up the awesome work.

  11. 14

    ashish malhotra

    October 22, 2010 8:57 pm

    nice article thanks for sharing …….

  12. 15

    Ya Jiew its a wonderfull phrase.I liked it too.
    The article was very motivating.

  13. 16

    Satish Chathanath

    October 22, 2010 10:57 pm

    I think Innovation or creativity doesn’t happen by committee! Nor they follow a clock. But you need to be a visionary with burning passion and a great deal of patience to accept and accomodate failures. If everything falls in line and you think you are good to go… pause… revisit… you will be amazed by the rough edges and reckless assumptions!!

    And don’t spend your lifetime on market research and competitors! But don’t rush it. Stay cool when things take a different path. Follow it… bingo!! You made it!!!

  14. 17

    How To Make Innovative Ideas Happen? Get off your ass and do it. Stop thinking about it. Plain and simple.

  15. 18

    good article..
    talking about failures and constraints while conceptualising and making ideas happen there can be a survey done within the webdesign community about the constraints ( most common ones ) that designers face throughout the process of web designing till project implementation.
    i guess thats too vast but an article on that will help cover the general issues as such and may be give an idea on the solutions to the contraints.

  16. 19

    Phil @ NetInspired Web Design

    October 23, 2010 5:31 am

    Great article, thanks for posting. I’m always filled with [what I think of as] good ideas, but just never get as far as realising them until someone else ends up doing it themselves. By the way, only one ‘t’ in Scotland ;-)

  17. 20

    Rebecca Petrin

    October 23, 2010 10:13 am

    I’m currently a business student and this is a great breakdown of what I’m learning in my Entrepreneurship class. For an excellent academic textbook on this (especially “Chapter 4: Creativity and the Business Idea”), and much more that will be extremely useful to you as a freelancer, seriously consider this book: It’s excellent and worth the money.

  18. 21

    Thank you for the post. In my opinion this is one of the best article that I have read on the smashing magazine, well done!

  19. 22

    Jose Luis Uclés

    October 23, 2010 11:55 pm

    Very interesting article. Some people think that to have a good idea is the same that to realize its. But is something a little bit hard.

  20. 23

    A useful tool i find in the ideation period is to grab some random words and then create ideas around them. Then grab another set and do the same. Rinse and repeat a few times then start mixing some of the ideas and see what you end up with. It helps me get out of my routine thinking.

    I find the generator here ( works nicely.


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