Is a Completely Original Idea Bad?

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I’m sorry to say that a truly original idea is very difficult to come by. The Good Book says that, “there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:19)”–yes, it’s important to cite your sources—and by and large, it’s fairly true.

But what if you had one? It does happen from time to time. The issue I’ve had with my few original thoughts is that I usually defeat them before I get motivated to try them. My logic is, “if it was a good idea, somebody would already be doing it. Nobody else is doing this, so there must be something that makes it impractical.” Sound familiar at all?

Well, I’m hoping to refute that, for my sake and yours. If nobody else is doing it then they most likely haven’t thought if it yet, or more hilariously, did, and had the same thought as above. But I also want to cover a couple of the things that you may not think about when you’re considering whether a product or a service is feasible.

Firstly, your product or service is only part of the equation. You can’t start a business installing mercury reflecting ponds anymore, but there is also marketing and distribution to worry about. Think about the issues you will have with transportation, which is often the limiting factor in selling anything. You could have a fruit that is, hands down, the most delicious thing in the world, but if it spoils 5 minutes after being picked, then it won’t do you any good. The same goes for services—you can’t work nationally or internationally as a plumber, and you can’t always make sales calls in person.

The other side of it is marketing. If you truly have an original idea then it is going to be a little difficult to convince people that what you’re selling is legitimate; unless it has it’s own appeal, but if that’s the case then you shouldn’t be worrying about this so much. The other side, is how similar is your idea to an existing product. Say you’re trying to sell a revolutionary new television remote—there are a lot of big name businesses that will either try to buy you out or, barring that, simply block your access to the market.

My advice then? If you have a truly original idea then start small. Get your patents and or trademarks to protect yourself from coattail riders and get to work. If you can get one person to pay for your product, then you can be reasonably assured that it has appeal and that you can market it to to a broader audience. You can worry about big industry players trying to block you when you’re successful. As long as you have the logistics figured out and have people that are ready to give you money, you are in the clear.

How Much is Too Much for Employees?

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I wanted to broach this question after seeing this article from Business Insider, which talks about how Evernote pays for housekeepers for their employees. Is that even a good idea? Throwing certain benefits into a compensation package is a fairly standard practice; having catered lunches, free swag now and again, and other little things to let your workers know that they are appreciated is great, but is there a limit to what you should give?

The story itself is fairly short, simply offering that Evernote does, indeed, offer around 250 of it’s workers paid-for housekeeping. An unnamed employee noted, “[The house cleaning] eliminates a decisions I have to make. It’s just happening and it’s good, and I don’t have to think about it.” The CEO, Phil Libin, explained, “Happy workers make better products. The output we care about has everything to do with your state of mind.”

To top it off, the company also offers employees $1,000 every year for a vacation. So, the question I pose is, is that too much? From a purely economic perspective, a business wants to pay and give as little compensation as possible for as much talent as possible. In the real world though, skilled workers require a higher salary, and often other benefits. Medical, dental, and a retirement plan are standard, but the kind of stuff we see in tech startups is doing something interesting to workers in the IT field.

My thought is that no longer is a job simply a job (mainly in IT, but in certain companies outside of that as well). A job is a means to pursue passion and work towards a common goal that you can relate to. That goal is going to make the CEO and stakeholders money, so naturally, you need to be paid. They demand a lot of skill and time, and in turn, you demand not only money, but other things that make your life more comfortable. Catered lunches, an office foosball table, and housekeeping come to mind.

It may be the case that skilled workers are demanding more, but at the same time, Libin came right out and said why they’re doing what they do. Keeping workers happy is essential to the health of a business. Ever wonder why service sucks at movie theaters? The popcorn makers earn minimum wage, so they give you minimum wage service. Give them stuff that keeps them happy and worry free, and the service improves. The same is true for any profession—no worries means a clean, clear mind that can tackle work related problems more efficiently.

So, is paying for your employee’s housekeeping giving too much? Naturally, it depends on your business and how much money you’re willing to part with benefits, but for Evernote, I say no. Do whatever you can to keep your workers working happily, and you’ll see a successful business.