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Build a Better Mousetrap

Build a Better MousetrapWhen I first started working on my own business ideas, I didn’t understand how important it was to do something unique.

I borrowed other ideas without contributing anything new or noteworthy and then scratched my head when my implementation never took off. “Why is no one paying attention to my idea?

The next time around, I decided to take the complete opposite approach. I then thought you had to invent something completely new to succeed.

Maybe you’ve bounced from one extreme to the other, too.

This is a trap many new entrepreneurs fall into. They believe that if they just come up with the elusive perfect idea, they’ll become rich and famous.

There are a few big problems with the perfect idea fallacy.

First, ideas are worthless on their own. Ideas are really just a multiplier of execution. The better your idea, the more value you can create, but only if you match your idea with great execution.

Second, new ideas are rarely new. Most of the time what you think is a new idea isn’t really new at all. Your idea may have actually led some other entrepreneur you’ve never heard of down a path to failure. If only you had the case study you might learn and adapt, but alas quiet failures aren’t usually documented for us to learn from.

And finally, if your idea really is new, that means it’s also unproven (read: risky). This can be a really good thing (like the Roomba), or a big expensive disappointment (like the Segway).

Succeeding as an entrepreneur is about eliminating risks. You can still hit a home run without taking on the risk of an unproven idea. Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and Dell have each made it to the top of the technology business heap by innovating, not inventing. I’ll bet you can’t name the companies or people who actually invented the social network, computer operating system, personal computers or the database.

The sweet spot for business ideas lies somewhere between inventing and copying.

It’s all about innovation.

I finally figured this out by my third attempt at entrepreneurship. A business should be interesting and fresh, but it doesn’t have to be completely novel.

Innovating on an already good idea is how most successful businesses are born. The “better mousetrap” concept really does work.

But don’t think this lets you off the hook. For as many entrepreneurs who fall into the perfect idea fallacy, just as many fall into the trap of not innovating at all.

What you do does have to be unique, and interesting and noteworthy. You can’t do exactly the same thing as dozens of other businesses with no unique selling proposition or other differentiation, and still expect to succeed.

Whatever space you’re already in or are thinking about starting up in, think about how you can innovate to make people take notice.

Sometimes you don’t have to look far.

For example, Nest asked why thermostats had to be programmed, instead of learning from your behavior. They took a boring old idea and made it fresh and interesting. Similarly, Sonos asked why filling your home with audio in every room had to be so complicated. Both of these killer products are merely better mousetraps.

In the blogging world, Steve Kamb simply wondered why there weren’t any fitness publications which catered to people like him, and Nerd Fitness was born.

Pat Flynn noticed that all the blogs about making money online lacked honesty and transparency, so he started Smart Passive Income and revealed all his financial details each month, down to the penny.

What annoys you about current offerings? What do you hear people asking for that doesn’t yet exist? How do you wish the products and services you use could be improved?

Your great business idea could be come from answering simple questions like those.

What do you think? Let’s discuss the “better mousetrap” concept below. Have any counter-examples? Please share in the comments!


Fun fact: the quote “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” is often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but it’s a misquotation. Mousetraps actually weren’t invented until seven years after Emerson died.

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