‘It’s a million to one chance’ – long shots and crazy ideas are always celebrated in movies, but why don’t we celebrate them in business as well?
In the Coen brothers’ film The Hudsucker Proxy, the protagonist carries around a piece of paper with a circle drawn on it, saying it’s ‘for kids’. Eventually we understand that, at least in the movie, he’s invented the hula hoop – a simple idea that turned into a smash product bought by millions.
If you’re looking for a real life no-brainer that some people felt was #brainless, think of Alexander Graham Bell.
In 1876 Bell offered Western Union his telephone patent for $100,000, but they turned it down. The company president is believed to have said: ‘We do not see that this device will ever be capable of sending recognizable speech over a distance of several miles’ …Whoops!
Other ideas seem to offer solutions to non-existent problems.
Ken Ahroni, a product development consultant from Seattle, decided that the turkeys were badly designed – they only had one wishbone to, er, make wishes over at Thanksgiving.
He invented a plastic wishbone and started selling them, generating a reported $2.5m a year turnover. (He even sued a retailer for copying him and won $1.5m in damages.)
…And sometimes products come along that leave such big ripples in the culture of the day, that they create their own financial wake. A great example of this is Beanie Babies – stuffed toys released in limited editions and at their most popular in the 1990s.
Punters started trading in Beanie Babies as if they were proper stocks and shares, sometimes spending hundreds of dollars per toy. (This was around the time eBay started to gain traction, so people were able to trade with ease.)
The craze made the toy’s manufacturer millions, but buyers caught up in self-stoked ‘Beanie mania‘ soon saw the prices of their furry companions crash.
Although I never collected them, I have a 1997 Beanies price guide on my bookshelf. I use it to remind myself to take a moment before buying objects as investments.
Can you think of any ‘brainless’ inventions that turned out to be no-brainers?