When You Change the World and No One Notices

September 13, 2016

crop380w_istock_000018298852xsmallWe’ve written that it’s a long and difficult journey from idea to successful business, and entrepreneurs need partners who intuitively understand the right kind of support to offer over the long term during which failure can be counted on to make at least a cameo appearance.  In other words, the road to both successful and failed business models can be paved with “innovation.”

That road can also be long and involve a great deal of anonymity.  A friend recently passed along this article about how long it took for the Wright brothers to get even passing notice for an invention that would have seemed miraculous at the time.

(T)he first passing mention of the Wrights in The New York Times came in 1906, three years after their first flight. (I)n 1904, the Times asked a hot-air-balloon tycoon whether humans may fly someday. He answered:

Count

That was a year after the Wright’s first flight.

One would like to think a breakthrough of that magnitude that would kick up the equivalent of a tweet-storm, but even today one never knows.  For further evidence check out our Vintage Future series, a tongue-in-cheek look back at the sometimes tortuous routes to success (or not) of unlikely ideas. E.g., it took sliced bread 18 years to succeed.

Back to the article, which offers a seven-step path “big breakthroughs typically follow”:

  • First, no one’s heard of you.
  • Then they’ve heard of you but think you’re nuts.
  • Then they understand your product, but think it has no opportunity.
  • Then they view your product as a toy.
  • Then they see it as an amazing toy.
  • Then they start using it.
  • Then they couldn’t imagine life without it.

This process can take decades. It rarely takes less than several years.

The author echoes our earlier point, that “invention is only the first step of innovation,” and also adds that while Zen-like patience isn’t a typical trait associated with entrepreneurs, it is sometimes required.

If you are interested in reading a little bit more about the history of the Wright Brothers’ invention, please check out “The only thing he ever made fly was government money,” one of our all-time most-read posts.  It includes a great lesson about the process of productive capital allocation.

If you are interested in a related bit of trivia:  Neil Armstrong carried a piece of the Wright flyer with him to the moon.  In “The Wright Stuff” we recount that story and Mr. Armstrong’s explanation for why they experienced “only” 150 separate identifiable failures per flight when, statistically, they expected 1000.

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