Right idea, wrong time - how far is too far ahead of the curve?

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Being too far ahead of (or behind) the curve – can be seen below when your applied effort and time does not equate to significant advancement!

Have you ever had a great idea but not pursued it, and then seen it appear as a new product or solution some time in the future, even years later?

At some point we all get ‘in sync’ with solving a problem when it has caused us enough grief, and we’ve set our subconscious to solving the issue - due to the emotional investment in wanting to overcome it. Surprisingly, other people have had the same experience, for the same (or very close to the same) issue as well.

We’ve then become part of ‘a thing’ – yep, it’s ‘a thing’ when multiple people are starting to come to the same conclusions and addressing the same or linked issues, without having communicated anything about it.

But what happens if you have had an epiphany, a so called ‘light bulb’ moment (in reference to Mr Edison) and nobody else seems to share your enthusiasm for solving that problem? Are you ‘out of sync’ at that point? Or too far ahead of the (technology/change) curve?

I’ve been both in sync and out of sync a number of times. Perhaps we all have. It feels reassuring to know other people share your views of course – a validation of sorts that you share a common thread of understanding. In equal or greater measure though, it feels challenging and frustrating to be out of step, particularly when you have such a clear image of what could be a great solution to a problem, or wonderful improvement to a barely satisfactory current situation.

How do we know if that idea is going to get adoption? Is it just a case of time – allowing others to ‘catch up’ with your views? Is it an acute or annoying problem for you, but simply not enough of an inconvenience or perceived opportunity by others? Maybe your energy and focus are great, but misaligned in terms of popular opinion.

One thing I think we all struggle with in this context is understanding that best is not always better.

For those of us old enough to remember the video cassette wars of the 80s’, with VHS vs. BETA, or the more nuanced ongoing debate of CD vs. Vinyl (Digital vs. Analog) – there is ample proof that best is always subjective, especially when we include factors such as cost, availability, adoption, and support.

In reality, there is no best, there is only what people are willing to select; based on their own individual biases, constraints and fears. Yes fears – FOMO, fear of technology, fear of ridicule, any number of personal fears really.

Given that humans are social or ‘pack’ animals, one of these fears is of not being part of the pack, so selection is influenced by popular opinion to a considerable extent. If your idea does not receive popular acceptance, it will have a hard time surviving with only a few adopters, unless those adopters become influencers, and that influence brings your idea back into mainstream acceptance.

So, with every idea you have, it is worthwhile examining whether you are going to have to fight for it to get acceptance, or flow with the accepted norms. Your ability to align with the change curve, catching the wave of collectively understood need, stems from whether you set off in the right direction to begin with.

Like riding a wave, the larger the momentum of the wave as it builds, the greater power it has to propel you and your ideas with it, as long as you are not directly fighting it. You can still benefit even if your idea is obliquely aligned, as long as there is enough momentum to support you.

If you don’t see the building momentum, and simply set off on your own, struggling to make headway, you can spend a lot of time, energy and resources for very little gain – when taking the time to assess your environment, then preparing for, aligning with, and capitalising on existing momentum can accelerate your results.

Sometimes, it is better to wait for the right time for your ‘killer app’ idea to be able to leverage growing momentum, or tweak it, even reinvent it if you need, to place it in the right place at the right time. For example - Microsoft Tablet PCs released in 2003 didn’t gain popularity at the time; later Apple released the iPad in 2010 which went on to sell 360 million units. Microsoft tried again with the release the Surface hybrid tablet/laptop in 2012 and have achieved ongoing success with their revised approach.

Sometimes that reimagining can take months or years. Sometimes the great idea turns out to be no longer relevant and needs to be discarded. You can check out many an example in the Scientific American back-catalogue, listing a host of great inventions that went no-where.

Evolutionary ideas come from projecting the past into the future.

Revolutionary ideas come from an understanding that significant evolution comes from significant change (sometimes referred to as step change, or quantum leap). Change adoption is the building momentum that your ideas will benefit from, which can help to shape them into an offering that best fits and capitalises on ‘the curve’.

Where and how you place yourself on the curve is a personal preference. Passion can carry you through the early stages until change adoption momentum builds. Pivoting quickly to align with already building momentum can yield quick results. Leapfrogging can accelerate your advancement.

Whichever approach you choose - may the curve be with you.


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