The Toy That Defies Gravity -- and Naysayers

Last Updated Dec 28, 2009 9:31 AM EST

When you pursue a great idea, one of your biggest challenges will be to outlast the the critics always eager to tell you why something won't work.

Just imagine the opposition you would encounter to a remote controlled toy car that can drive up walls and across ceilings. The "secret" in the car is the high-speed fan that creates a stickiness vacuum. Well, that just will never work as a toy because:

  • It's never been done before.
  • It can't be made cheaply enough for mass manufacture.
  • Who wants car tracks up the wall?
  • Warranty problems if it falls off the wall and breaks.
  • Liability problems if it falls off the ceiling and conks grandpa.
But guess what? Toy maker Spin Master designed away all the objections and its $30 Air Hogs Zero Gravity Micro won the Toy Industry Association's Most Innovative award for 2009.

Staying power is one of the key attributes that innovators must posses, Spin Master's CEO and co-founder Ronnen Harary tells Julia Kirby. As Kirby observes in a recent post on HBR.org:

Organizations have a depressing tendency to want to move on as soon as the going gets tough for a project, and when tempting new ideas beckon. Harary listed all the roadblocks that can make a team lose momentum: "getting the item to come in at cost, the item not working like you expect it to, competitors trying to knock your concept off, people telling you the item simply won't be commercially viable ..." The antsiness that results isn't unique to people who work with toys. It's hard, but imperative, for any new product developer "to stick to your vision, be financially committed to it, and ignore the naysayers."
Remember that the next time the This Can't Possibly Work crew gets you down.

Kirby's full post, Finding Innovation Under the Tree, is worth your attention, especially for Harary's description of the moment of truth when he knows a toy is commercially viable.

Here's a video review of the toy when it debuted in 2008.

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.