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3 Examples of How Poor Business Execution Can Impact Innovation

Many exciting innovative ideas fail. Why? One reason is the poor business execution of the idea. Lee Iacocca has had a few brilliant ideas over the course of his career. He spearheaded the development of some of the most classic Ford cars, like the Pinto and the Mustang, which is just one of the man

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
3 Examples of How Poor Business Execution Can Impact Innovation

Many exciting innovative ideas fail. Why? One reason is the poor business execution of the idea.

Lee Iacocca has had a few brilliant ideas over the course of his career. He spearheaded the development of some of the most classic Ford cars, like the Pinto and the Mustang, which is just one of the many reasons he is one of the greatest American CEOs of all time. But as Iacocca said, it’s not just about having a great idea. It’s about executing that idea.

And this is the struggle that companies of all sizes, ages, and levels of success run into. They want to innovate; they have a revolutionary idea, but they have poor business execution. And businesses that neglect the Law of Execution will be disappointed with the outcome of their innovation agenda.

Brazil’s EEG Exoskeleton

For the past few decades, scientists, technology companies, and doctors have been working together to create better mobility options for paraplegic and quadriplegic individuals. Their goal has been to allow these physically disabled people to control mobile devices with their minds.

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, an innovative device was supposed to make this dream become a reality. Unfortunately, it was more of a flop—broadcasted internationally and watched by millions.

Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian native, got $15 million from the federal innovation agency in Brazil to carry out his project. The end goal was to equip a paralyzed Brazilian volunteer with a mind-controlled exoskeleton, have him walk across the soccer field, and make the ceremonial opening kick for the World Cup.

The project was named Walk Again. It should have worked. It had the money behind it and the experts developing it. The problem was that the execution was lacking. There wasn’t enough time. Nicolelis was only given the go-ahead 17 months in advance. This lack of time forced him to design the solution with the far inferior method of EEG to gather brain signals. Nicolelis’ work had been with the much more effective and efficient implantable chips.

The old and imprecise technology, paired with the short timeline, delivered a result that was less than satisfactory. The man was guided onto the field with two assistants and barely moved the ball. Only three seconds of this supposedly innovative technology were actually broadcast. Failing to follow the Law of Execution, spurred on by the violation of the Laws of Patience and Resources, caused this innovation to fall flat.


Over the years, GoPro has excited millions with its innovations. It allowed users to record their experiences from a first-hand perspective, and it allowed non-users to view that experience in incredibly high quality. It was a product that could survive dust, wind, water, and some rough and tumble play. This type of innovation helped the company make its mark.

But the last two products from GoPro have failed to please. They were innovative products, without a doubt, but the production and release of the products were not well-executed.

The first product, the GoPro Hero4 Session, was not well received, despite being an addition to their core product line. First, the product was released in July, long before the peak of the holiday season, and endured two price cuts before sales finally took off.

The second reason for the flop was that the video editing technology that came with the camera was not user-friendly or an improvement in past iterations. Users could capture their experience, but they struggled to add music, cut out scenes, and more. To make matters worse, there was a total lack of marketing and advertising strategy behind the product’s release.

The other GoPro product that failed to gain much traction was the Karma, a consumer drone. The anticipation for this release was high and consumers were itching to see what GoPro would come out with. But production issues stalled its release, again and again, slowly dampening consumer excitement.

And the result of the failed execution? A 40% decline in revenue and a loss of over $100 million. The Law of Execution calls for a balance between the operating and innovation agendas. This seems to be where GoPro fell short. For a company whose biggest selling point is their innovative products, they were putting too much of their energy into their business-as-usual processes. 50 percent of their revenue went to operating costs and there was minimal effort put into popularizing new products.

United Airlines' TED

Flying used to be a luxury. And then low-cost airlines started popping up. They offered travelers an affordable and efficient way to move, without the expense.

They did this by cutting back on a few of the luxuries. The seats were a little smaller, passengers couldn’t reserve special seating, and food and drinks weren’t offered. And customers didn’t mind. In fact, they preferred it. Airlines like Southwest started rising in the ranks, and the other airlines realized they needed to compete.

United Airlines created a subsidiary, TED. It was going to be a low-cost option that would allow flyers to stick with United, just at a better price. That was a good idea. It just wasn’t executed well.

There were two crucial flaws in the plan’s execution. First, United stuck with the same cost structure as their other flights. This was the real reason they were losing customers. Second, they neglected TED. They wouldn’t spend money on marketing and advertising. It only dished out a little over $2 million when it was launched in 2004. No one knew about the airline and there was no real incentive to choose it.

Poor Business Execution

An innovative idea is only a starting place. If your business doesn’t commit to seeing that idea through to the best of its ability, it isn’t just the idea itself that suffers, but your entire business. To learn more about how to successfully execute your innovation goals, check out Techtrend, an innovation agency with the experience and expertise.

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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