PonderThis: When a Good Idea Gets Off the Leash

New ideas are exciting.  That burst of energy and excitement that comes with a concept that will (or even might) be a game changer is intoxicating.  And in cultures that are often very action oriented, change leaders want to get moving quickly.  I have written here before about the cost of jumping to action without fully understanding not only the outcome we want to create- but what it will take to deliver on that promise.

Billions of dollars are lost every year on projects that are killed by resistance before they even get fully implemented.  But what about the full unanticipated consequences of success?  If you read here regularly, you are familiar with the statement that any asset overused can become a liability.  The same is too for a great idea that gets off the leash.  Planning should include understanding the risk of what happens when the new idea is out of control.

The recent brouhaha about Apple’s location services is a great example.  The idea of enabling a device to navigate and locate itself has tremendous commercial and societal value.  But what else will it do beside just allow the user to get directions or tag a location?  Do you think that engineers might have looked for a different architecture for storing location information if they had anticipated the lambasting Apple would take in the press?  Both Microsoft and Google have faced similar challenges about how they use location data.

But the biggest winner (loser?) is TomTom, who were thrilled to be more or less under the radar when it came out recently that they were selling location data from their GPS devices to the Dutch police, who used it (including speed estimates) to set speed traps!

In the planning process, we will often “invite the devil to dinner” to run implementation scenarios.  We want to know what can go wrong so that we can cut our losses or even back out when we go live with a new system or process.  To avoid the kind of exposure we are seeing today over location services, have that dinner party early.  Here are a few questions to ask during the vision process:

  • What happens if this process/ technology/ idea gets off the leash?
  • What is the most heinous use for this we can imagine (feel free to be really slimy here)?
  • Assuming we were willing to suspend any corporate and personal values- how can we make the most money with this?
  • What could this idea do that would make me really angry to know it was doing it to me?

Happy planning!

PonderThis is published to arrive in your RSS/ mailbox on Fridays as a concept to ponder over the weekend and goes to thousands of subscribers on 4 continents.