In early 2010, I started a skunkworks project in IBM that ultimately failed. This left me quite disillusioned because I was so certain that the goal of the project was critical to the success of the business yet the project had failed so utterly. I asked Danny Sabbah (at the time the General Manager of Rational) for a chat and he gave me some advice that I haven’t forgotten. I don’t remember Danny’s exact words so I will paraphrase:
“Being right isn’t enough. There are a lot of smart people who never get things done because they don’t know how to persuade people that their idea is a good one and something that we should actually work on versus the other thousand things we might choose to work on instead. You have to learn how to sell your idea.”
Danny’s statement resonated because I realized I had been working under the implicit assumption that my ideas were good, and as people observed them they would recognize the goodness of the ideas, some unspecified good things would happen that would lead to project success. But this is actually overstating the situation. I really hadn’t done anything other than “just” trying to build good technology.
This realization led me to study how ideas spread, and this eventually led me back to a book I had purchased a long time ago, but had never actually read, called “Diffusions of Innovations (5th Ed.)” by Everett Rogers. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary of the theory. I would like to explore this theory in more detail in my journal later, but for the purposes of this entry I will simply observe that there is a whole science to spreading ideas and I was stumbling along in the dark not really understanding how to do that.
But the happy perspective on this situation is that Danny’s point resonated, I identified a massive gap in my personal approach to collaborative development, and I’ve been studying and applying the lessons to close the gap. But it’s an ongoing learning process and I’ll write more about it here as I learn. Some other good more recent books near this topic that I will hit in the weeks and months ahead are Kevin Kelly’s “What Technology Wants” and Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From“.