When Is It Okay To Let Go Of An Idea?

It is said that there is nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.

This is a statement that I have heard through the course of my life so far and I must state that I agree with it. However, the question is “who is responsible for the timing” of what we can define as “has come”.

How does one know if their idea is obsolete or if it’s ahead of its time or if it’s right on time? How do we decipher this? Is there a framework or criteria that we can follow to ascertain these? Is it just a frame of mind we have to develop and familiarize ourselves with? If it is indeed a frame of mind, it goes without saying that it will differ from one person to the other. This will be responsible for why some people follow ideas to the end of the earth up until they become successful. However, what we do not know is the other multitude of people who followed their ideas to the end of the earth and nothing resulted from them.

What could be the problem for the latter set of individuals? Were their ideas not groundbreaking? Did they go about things the wrong way? Were their ideas ahead of their time or were they obsolete? What could really be responsible for these ‘unsuccessful’ ideas.

It is often said that Thomas Edison went at the light bulb about 3000 unsuccessful attempts before getting it right. It is also said that someone attempted registering the patent for the light bulb not long after Edison. I’d like to draw out two things from these two scenarios.

Firstly, to think about 3000 times at going at something, it is safe to say the idea took him a while and in this time he really could have quit because 3000 times is enough to lose your mind and try to explore another idea. However Edison didn’t take this route as he approached the idea with all passion, conviction, commitment and dedication until a successful result was attained.

Secondly, the second individual who history was slightly unfair to due to a timing discrepancy wasn’t any less novel. It goes with the saying nothing is new under the sun and this is a clear case of perfect timing.

While some ideas might be old, the times are a-changing and we need to know that there is entirely nothing wrong with reinventing the wheel to fit the times we live in. So while some ideas might seem obsolete, I am of the opinion that they can be tweaked to live in the times that we find ourselves. An example is social media. A few years ago, MySpace was a platform that everyone had an account on. While approaching that same idea might seem stuck in time, SoundCloud pretty much tweaked a bit of that model and is very much of use in the times we live.

It is also said that some ideas time are yet to come. Watching the Steve Jobs movie (Michael Fassbender & Kate Winslet 2015), there was a scene right before one of the launches where Steve (Michael Fassbender) explained to Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) about why Apple ‘seemed’ to initially fail. He used a reference to NASA’s SkyLab, where he explained that they sent out a rocket to space at the time, with no idea of how the rocket will make it back to earth due to the fact that the technology to make that possible wasn’t available, however due to the expect of the 8 year orbit of the rocket, they were of good faith that the technology would be made available before that orbit was complete. This analogy was what was tied to the initial ‘failure’ of the Apple Lisa. It was a machine that was built ahead of a time when people would understand its functionality and appreciate all of that.

Taking this into consideration, it didn’t make the idea less valuable. It was just an idea that came from the future and didn’t go down too well with the people in the present. It is often rumored that technology has products from a decade already available, however these products are released in bits and bops with respect to the public’s readiness, adoption and consumption.

Thinking about Uber, the idea seemed to be right on time. An idea that appeared to be the culmination of varying factors has become a very valuable company. From the emergence of mobile payments to the desire for convenience, down to the need for extra income for people who take on Uber during their free times in order to make some extra cash. This is an idea whose time was right and was seized.

However I am also of the opinion that some ideas have wider time windows than others. It is said that James Cameron had the idea for Avatar about 10 years before its release, however, due to the unavailability of the technology to execute his vision, he had to wait it out till the equipment were developed. Not all ideas have such a lengthy life span, however his’ stood this test.

The questions i have to ask are, how do you know when your idea is ahead of it’s time, when do you know when it’s right on time, and when do you know when it’s too old and you might need to reinvent it or just let it go? When do you know when you have given an idea your all? When have you not given enough? When should you keep at it or when should you give yourself a pat on the back and walk away to the next idea?