Tom Reynolds (the now infamous sacked Telstra blogger) sent me this link today to Scott "Dilbert" Adams’ blog post on "Knowing When To Quit". It has some great advice.

So how do you know when to bail out of a losing idea?

I heard a useful rule about predicting success during my (failed) attempt at creating a hit Dilbert animated TV show. While watching the Dilbert pilot being tested on a focus group, an experienced executive explained to me the most non-intuitive way to predict success. Since then I’ve observed it to be true a number of times. It goes like this:

If everyone exposed to a product likes it, the product will not succeed.

Think about that for a minute before I explain why everyone liking something predicts failure. If you get this answer right, I’m guessing that you are already successful yourself. Tell me in the comments if I’m right about that.

The reason that a product “everyone likes” will fail is because no one “loves” it. The only thing that predicts success is passion, even if only 10% of the consumers have it. For example, I’m willing to bet that when the TV show Baywatch was tested, 90% of the people rolled their eyes and gave it a thumbs down. But I’ll bet 10% of the test audience had tents in their pants. Bingo.

Dilbert was the same way. From the very beginning, the vast majority of people who saw it didn’t care for it. But 10% who saw it not only liked it, they cut it out and mailed it to friends. They talked about it. They hung it on walls. They were passionate about it. Before the first Dilbert reprint book was sold, I heard stories of people making their own Dilbert books from newspaper clippings. Bingo.

Anyone who knows me well will recognize this story. I always say that when I speak in front of any large group of people, it breaks down like this: 10% of the audience think I’m a complete wanker, 10% of the audience think I’m terrific, and the other 80% are just bewildered. So I focus on the 10% who "get" me and don’t worry too much about the rest. I’m also now working on a plan to try to get more of the 80% to at least remember my name. You learn very early in a sales career that success is all about the "doing the numbers". My first sales job involved lots of cold call selling. You would ring 100 people. 50 would meet with you. 25 would be interested in your product. 15 will tell you they are going to buy your product. 5 actually will. 5 won’t. 5 will just keep stalling you indefinitely because they are too scared to tell you they are a "no". As we used to say SWSWSW – Some Will, Some Won’t, So What.