There was once a guy named Ferruccio who could fix anything. Following WWII, he could turn almost any deserted war machine into farming equipment. Eventually, he started his own tractor company.

When he first became successful, he bought a Ferrari and loved it, leading him to join the Ferrari racing club. It was there that Ferruccio met Enzo Ferrari and told him about an idea that would improve the Ferrari’s clutch better. Enzo was mightily offended. “You stick to making tractors, and I’ll make cars,” he told Ferruccio.

It turns out, Ferruccio’s last name was Lamborghini. The takeaway is that successful people and companies overestimate their control and command of their market.

Enzo Ferrari wasn’t the first market leader to dismiss an innovative idea presented to him. History is littered with instances where the market leader couldn’t see the potential in a rivalling creation, design, view, or opportunity.

I list a few market leaders who overlooked great ideas:

  • England rejected Thomas Edison’s light bulb and said it was “unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.”
  • Western Union rejected Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, saying it was “idiotic. Why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device?”
  • The Kansas City Star newspaper fired Walt Disney, saying he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
  • Kodak invented digital photography in 1975 but didn’t adapt and went bankrupt.
  • HP rejected Steve Wozniak’s computer ideas three times.
  • Atari could have owned 33% of Apple for $50,000.
  • EDS could have bought Microsoft for $60 million. 
  • Excite could have bought Google for $1 million.
  • Myspace could have owned Facebook for $75 million.
  • Yahoo could have owned Facebook for ($1 billion).
  • Britannica could have been Encarta, but they rejected Bill Gates.
  • Encarta could have been Wikipedia.
  • Blockbuster (folded in 2010) had three chances to buy Netflix for $50 million. Ouch!

You and I are also guilty of mistakes. We could have been very wealthy if we put all our money into Amazon.
How does this impact your business? Opportunity is very subtle. You need to force yourself to explore new ideas if you don’t want to miss out – track innovation related to your market and set aside time to reflect on what has changed.

Typically, smart people miss out because new ideas seem awkward and different. To find your breakthrough opportunity, you need to be able to spot the subtle clues that hint toward great ideas.

Your breakthrough is closer than you think, but it is easy to miss out.

(Market data from The Subtlety of Opportunity by Jeremy Gutsche)