Zoe Aitken25 January 2023

5 reasons why your ideas are completely missing the mark

It’s easy to launch mediocre ideas. And it’s even easier to launch terrible ideas. Yet how does this happen? How do we get to the point where we launch ideas that completely miss the mark with our customers? Here are five reasons that help explain why we might persist with terrible ideas.

  1. The Pathos Problem

Originating from the Greek term ‘pathos’, which was coined by Aristotle as a means of emotional persuasion, the ‘Pathos Problem’ is when we shift into ‘accidental approval seeking’ and fishing for compliments around our idea.

Entrepreneur Rob Fitzpatrick, who wrote ‘The Mom Test’, coined this phrase. He states that the ‘Pathos Problem’ happens when we are passionate about our idea, and we start appealing to our audience’s emotions to convince them of its merits. Whether that be to our boss, our CEO, or our customers during a Focus Group. It is rarely intentional; however, it happens when we expose our ego, which leads people to want to protect us (and our fragile egos!) by saying nice things.

The Pathos Problem leads us to believe that the people around us think our idea is as worthwhile and valuable as we do. Which gives us the confidence to keep persisting.

  1. Confirmation Bias

A close cousin to the Pathos Problem is Confirmation Bias, which is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of our existing beliefs or theories. This happens a lot during the business case phase, when we collect lots of data and information to support our idea. And we can get very creative at this stage. We go digging into dark and obscure places to find any and all evidence to validate our idea and ensure it sees the light of day.

When we’re looking for data to validate our idea, we will find it. We will find a way to make our business case very compelling. And so, the business is impressed, and we persist with our idea.

  1. Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk-cost fallacy means that the more resources (i.e., time, people, and money) we invest in something, the more inclined we become to blindly persist with it, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Many of our organisation’s processes often mandate a lofty business case that can take months to prepare. We can get involved in countless meetings to seek alignment and funding for our idea when we haven’t even determined if it’s something our customers want.  All these hours build attachment to our idea and encourage us to buy into our own convictions and keep blindly persevering.

  1. Loss Aversion

The greater the love for our idea the more likely we are to fall victim to ‘loss aversion’. This is our natural tendency to avoid loss and failure because we experience the pain associated with loss, twice as intensely as the joy associated with a win. Therefore, we try to avoid it. We avoid failure and we avoid killing ideas even if we know we should. And so, we keep persisting with mediocre (or worse, bad) ideas to avoid the psychological pain of the loss.

  1. Flawed Reward Structures

Often organisations have reward structures based on specific deliverables, such as ‘launching Idea X’, ‘achieving X number of sales for Idea Y within 12 months’, or ‘executing the annual plan’. These types of execution-focused objectives promote the delivery of specific ideas or products to market, on time and within budget. Therefore, they leave little room or incentive for us to kill or pivot our ideas.

When this happens, we convince ourselves (and the business) of our idea’s merits because we must in order to achieve our objectives and be rewarded.

Being aware of these five perils can help us avoid them. To launch ideas that our customers love, we must not get attached to the solution. Businesses need processes and systems in place that support an evidence-led approach to experimenting with ideas. And importantly we need to stay open to pivoting and killing our ideas along the way.

Zoe Aitken is the Head of Consulting at leading behavioural science and innovation consultancy Inventium and has over 20 years’ experience helping organisations develop customer-centric growth strategies and innovation.