Somebody Has Written That Already

The first roadblock to innovation is “Somebody has already done that.”

I used that phrase as a prospective publisher rejected a book proposal I had written and suggested an alternative approach. I told them the simpler concept had already been done many times.

His response was “That’s true, but if you get it right, you own the category.”

Will Weiser’s suggestion and nudge was the impetus that created The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. And he was right. There was a market.

This question of copying an idea that already exists comes up a lot in book publishing as we make choices about what to write and what to publish. A blog post over at Whittle Idea suggests a another question to consider when faced with these situations:

Drew Houston, founder of Drop-box, pitched the idea of file sharing across computers to a bunch of investors. The leading objection was “there are many file sharing services out there”.

Drew Houston turned to an investor who dismissed the idea & asked “Do you use any file sharing service?”. The answer was “No”. In the following discussion, he established that prospective users were not yet taken.

That is how you find if the idea is already taken – by checking if the prospective users are already taken.

If prospective users are still available, the idea is still available. If the need is real, all you need is to reach and resonate with those users, in a way [others] could not.

If someone would have asked me if I bought any of the other books on the market, I would have said no. There were more readers out there. In our case, we have outsold any other book in our segment by a ratio of 3:1.

There is a risk of misusing this question if you only ask yourself but if you are talking to potential customers it is a great qualifier to see if a market is still in play.