Good ideas fail all the time. At the end of every year, the technology literati draw up lists of failed inventions and enterprises, pointing out the pitfalls and mistakes made. This practice has its roots in more than schadenfreude. Their desire, and that of their readers, is to understand failure and to learn from others' stumbling blocks. They want to learn how to succeed (that is, make a profit) for themselves and their customers, and studying past failures is an excellent exercise in what not to do.
Great products and services are the sum of many failures, each carefully combed through to pick out the good and discard the ineffective or detrimental. Take, for example, the iPhone. When it was first released, it was—and still is—a massive success, a true game changer in mobile technology. But Apple didn't start with the iPhone; it started with the Apple Newton.
The Newton was a play for the Palm Pilot market and was released with huge fanfare—handheld, mobile, new user interface, celebrity CEO, great expectations—and yet Apple pulled the plug less than a year after its release. Wired magazine called it a “prophetic failure” and they were right.1 The Newton, based on a cultural hypothetical and vision of the future, heralded a new age of technical innovation. It didn't fail because it was a terrible idea—it failed because it missed the mark in three key areas: data, design, and culture.
Data was not the Newton's strong suit. It allowed the user to input ...