Creating successful new products is also difficult because the tastes, prejudices, and just basic vision of the decision makers is instrumental. Some people just don't get it, and sometimes these people are in a position where it matters to "get it."
I'll give two examples. HDTV and 3DTV.
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were tons of people who simply didn't appreciate how awful and primitive analog TVs of the day were. I would dare say, the average joe on the street didn't know or care -- back then. And yet, HDTV is a big success. The average joe only needed to be exposed to it to "get it." And it was helped too by LCD technology, that made TVs slim and light. I doubt too many of these previous nay-sayers would go gladly back to grainy, fuzzy analog TV.
3DTV is perhaps the other way around. In this case, the corporate managers saw people paying an extra $3 or $4 for 3D movie tickets, and assumed these same people would leap at 3D in the home. Instead, no. A special occasion in theaters does not translate to a steady diet of wearing glasses and sitting in sweet spots.
I see this in myself too. The above two examples I predicted correctly. On the other hand, I still don't understand the attraction of stuff like twitter.
@Fred: Even if you quote that "technology ideas are a dozen", I presume you probably do not understand most aspects of technology. In that case it is amoral to further make any constructive criticisim.
Technology ideas are not dime a dozen. "Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them." - David Hume
Exactly.... Venture capitalists are often quoted as saying something like "ideas are a dime a dozen" - that's because they don't have to come up with the ideas. They just sit back and wait for someone to bring them a great idea and then exploit the enthusiasm and dedication of that "someone"" to take the lion's share of the profit.
Ideas are relatively cheap, even if restricted to ideas that are likely to be useful. Edison's famous quote "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration" points to this (though I suspect Edison was excessively trying to emphasis effort). Creativity can seem effortless, perhaps especially to creative people, but the creative pump typically needs to be primed with reading, thinking, and other time consuming effort. Distraction also seems to play a significant role in creativity (not just from cross-fertilization of thoughts but from removing conscious thinking about the problem), which also makes it seem less like work.
With a relatively low cost of information and of fast communication and adequate leisure, creativity tends to become less rare.
There is also a significant difference between a merely useful idea and an idea so seemingly outstanding that venture capitalists would be interested.
The passion to push for the realization of an idea probably remains less common than ideas themselves. (I would not be surprised if creative people are less likely to be aggressive in pushing their ideas and be more sensitive to failure and disapproval. Googling "sensitivity creativity correlation" seems to affirm this perception.)
In addition, recognition of and definition of a problem/opportunity (and believing it can be addressed practically) can be the most significant step in the generation of a useful idea. Recognizing a research or development direction is not patentable work, and so tends toward being perceived as priceless (only shareable under non-disclosure agreement) or worthless (the standard "general research" funding issue) in a money-focused culture.
I stand by my opinion of how and why VCs disparage ideas. Perhaps the point is that compared to executing on an idea, thinking of the idea is considered easy by comparison?
I don't think the value of an idea is diminished because you can't attribute a specific amount of effort to its conception - or even if the effort was zero.
Perhaps, I differ on what constitutes a good idea? To me a valuable idea is new & unique, practical to implement and marketable. On the other hand, many ideas I consider mediocre or unoriginal get funded and some later get purchased for huge sums.
Or maybe ideas are cheap and I am just creatively deficient. Maybe there are people that pop out significant and briliant ideas on a daily or weekly basis - but for me, coming up with great ideas is hard.
Fred, you say that "Powerful insiders in these companies campaign against any pie-in-the-sky investment outside their domain."
Why is that? Do these power people see new peoducts/technologies as a threat to their domain? Are they afraid of becoming obsolete and thus adopt the siege mentality of trying to crush potential threats?
@Fred, you say "Corporations tend to hide their failures under the all-inclusive expense category of R&D." Shouldn't we expect some percentage of R&D to be a failure? I would worry about the health of a company with no failures in R&D. With that said, does anyone think that R&D has now become primarily about cutting costs rather than developing new products?
I used to regularly visit companies for cover stories in the print magazine and interview engineers on specific projects. I would always ask engineers how they are smarter for having gone through the experience of developing a product and they would usually answer. But, management always wanted that part cut because it implied that their engineers didn't already know everything. We learn from everything we do.