Selling an idea: Onion Style

Now, you might think this is all in jest but, actually, it is pretty close to something else we have already discussed on this blog: Scott Adams’ plan to see if he can sell an idea. If you recall, Dilbert creator, Scott Adams actually does not believe it is possible to sell an idea (unlike the guy in the Onion talk). But he has an idea (which we still don’t know but is pretty much as big as the car running on compost) and he is seeing if he can sell it to someone. That someone will handle the implementation.

What is also instructive about this video — which is why it will make it into every single MBA course I will ever teach — is that it encompasses a notion that it is possible to consider an idea independent of implementation and then to impose no strict requirement that the idea’s creator will implement it. After all, there is no compelling reason to believe that in most instances, an idea’s creator is also its best implementor. What this highlights, however, is the big issue is: when? How much development do you actually have to do on an idea in order to be in a position to sell it? The video demonstrates that it is unlikely that just coming up with an idea will cut it. It certainly won’t cut it now that the guy has told the world. Thus, ideas are fundamentally valueless on their own.

The other issue with this particular compost fuelled car plan is, of course, that the ‘inventor’ sees their main buyer as a major automaker. Well, for the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, Bob Kearns, even when you do a lot of development, selling to major automakers is fraught with difficulties.

For more details on all of this, you can take a look at this 2003 paper of mine (co-authored with Scott Stern). But, in many ways, 3 minutes from The Onion is more compelling.

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