It could have been great....
February 17, 2009 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of good ideas or good concepts that were very poorly implemented and/or managed. They can be in any context. This is for a presentation that I am giving to students. The more well-known the better, but something obscure and relatively easy to explain will also do.

In other words, an event, product or situation where everyone could agree that the idea was a great one. And then, when it was implemented, it turned out to be awful. For some reason, I am drawing a blank. Thanks all.
posted by jeanmari to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The Edsel
posted by TedW at 7:14 AM on February 17, 2009

The deployment of Betty Crocker products to Japan, in particular, cake mix.
posted by jadepearl at 7:27 AM on February 17, 2009

These lists might be useful:

10 biggest computer flops of all time

Top 10 dot-com flops
posted by brandman at 7:30 AM on February 17, 2009

Star Wars prequels?
posted by backwards guitar at 7:33 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: FEMA and the Katrina Disaster. The idea was good - but the execution was horrid.
posted by Brettus at 7:41 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are plenty of movies where an outstanding cast and crew are assembled to produce a flop. Ishtar comes to mind. Heaven's Gate would probably be the textbook example. All the more recent Star Wars movies.

The Segway hasn't exactly lived up to its pre-release hype.
posted by adamrice at 7:42 AM on February 17, 2009

What age students? A lot of the classic "flops," even the computer ones, are pretty grandpa-eque for high school or college students.

New Coke might be a little easier to explain. Maybe -- they would probably remember the commercials.
posted by desuetude at 7:44 AM on February 17, 2009

You might be able to use some of the more famous format wars to illustrate your point, e.g., Sony's Betamax format was technologically superior vis-a-vis recording quality, but lost the battle for market share/status as the industry standard to VHS, which offered longer-recording cassettes. Your students may be familiar with the similar war leading to Blueray.
posted by carmicha at 7:44 AM on February 17, 2009

The movie Vantage Point. It sounded super cool in the idea and promos, but the movie was absolutely horrid.
posted by DJWeezy at 7:48 AM on February 17, 2009

Best answer: Maybe Fordlandia? Seemed like a good idea to Henry Ford to have a rubber plantation to provide rubber for car tires. But, poor planning and management swiftly brought it to failure. The ruins of the village still exist today and are visited by photographers and the curious.
posted by sdinan at 8:08 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Tripath amplifiers. They owned a technology for making great digital amplifiers, but went belly up.
posted by gjc at 8:09 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I always remember Pastabagel's excellent comment on what could have been.
posted by sanka at 8:13 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Edison's concrete houses. And don't forget his concrete furniture, either.
posted by theantikitty at 8:18 AM on February 17, 2009

Best answer: There are a number of different kinds of flops here, and it's not entirely clear to me what you're going for. carmicha mentions Betamax, but while that failed to take off in the consumer market, it's actually a good product that's still in use. Much professional recording actually uses the format even today. It was less a flop as it was a victim of its marketing strategy. brandman mentions a second kind, products that, in hindsight, raise the question of who exactly thought they were good ideas in the first place.

The Segway is a different kind of flop that might be closer to what you had in mind. The device is very well designed but completely failed to take off, not because of competition, but because it was ultimately a product that no one wanted. One suspects that the execution has something to do with this. Somewhere along the line, someone should have asked if anyone was actually willing to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for it. The only people I see using it today are security guards and tourist "walking" tours, and in the latter case one suspects that the novelty of the device is a big part of the draw. The designers just completely failed to take into account the potential market for their product.

Brettus is on the right track with the Katrina disaster too. The plans seemed good, but when it came time to execute them things got unimaginably f*cked up. The plans in place today don't strike me as being all that different, we're just more aware of how things will actually work.

You should also probably mention Iridium, the satellite phone company that went bankrupt almost as soon as they opened their doors. World-wide satellite phone coverage? Great idea! Not not so great as to prevent what was a $6 billion startup investment from being sold for $25 million a few years later. Whups!

Also take a look at the Apple Newton. Years ahead of its time, the Newton was a commercial failure, arguably due to its almost ten-year development phase, which made it necessary to basically reinvent the thing numerous times before the product was ever launched. Someone, somewhere, messed up.
posted by valkyryn at 8:20 AM on February 17, 2009

Perhaps it doesn't meet your criteria that "everyone" thought it was a good idea, but...the US war in Iraq. The "idea" being: overthrow a reviled dictator, enjoy the overwhelming gratitude of the newly free population and use oil-revenue to rebuild Iraq into a friendly democracy.

Of course, plenty of people thought this was a horrible idea from the start. But many bought into it, and now blame the execution for its failure. For a good summary of the botched execution, see the documentary No End in Sight.

The US war in Afghanistan may be a better example in that more people bought into the initial idea to begin with. But I think the Iraq case is really a stunning example of a nice idea destroyed by incompetent execution.
posted by mullacc at 8:25 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by DWRoelands at 8:28 AM on February 17, 2009

Response by poster: These are graduate students, mostly in their 30's and 40's. These are great! Keep 'em coming!
posted by jeanmari at 8:34 AM on February 17, 2009

The Iraq War.
posted by dydecker at 8:45 AM on February 17, 2009

posted by Faint of Butt at 9:00 AM on February 17, 2009

The documentary Lost in La Mancha shows how director Terry Gilliam failed to make a film about Don Quixote -- what goes from a grand idea everyone is excited about turns into a nightmare of competing investors and arguing insurers.

Also: EuroDisney, the Titanic, and that Mars probe that went kerblooie cuz no one remembered to convert feet to meters.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:38 AM on February 17, 2009

How about the digital TV conversion? That's something that we're living through right now.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:44 AM on February 17, 2009

The Claymore Mine.

The Claymore is a land mine that sits above ground, and can be detonated remotely by troops using it to defend a position. It's a directional mine with a flat, curved shape. When detonated, it sprays a fan-shapeed shrapnel pattern out from the convex side of the mine, the side which should be aimed in the direction you wish to defend. So far so good.

Trouble was, many young conscripts didn't understand "convex" and "concave", and in the heat of battle would sometimes set them up backwards, lethal side towards themselves. Subsequently, all Claymores were manufactured with a sign stencilled in yellow paint on the convex side: "THIS SIDE TOWARDS ENEMY"
posted by dinger at 11:41 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all excellent. I'm partial to the examples that are clearly the result of poor management/implementation versus the examples of projects that failed as a result of poor design or poor marketing practices. And some are wonderful but it is unclear how outside forces (economy, environment) also affected the possibility of success.
posted by jeanmari at 4:13 PM on February 17, 2009

I've got a book called The World's Worst Aircraft. Many of these were military planes commissioned by the U.S. military to meet mutually contradictory goals, where some critical component was rationed and never made available to the project, or where the plane itself was fine, but history had passed it by.
posted by adamrice at 4:22 PM on February 17, 2009 Intended to be a Big Important Political Discussion site, connecting Important People who drove opinion to us unwashed masses of the Internets to talk about the issues of the day. I guess an official Washington answer to big sites like Daily Kos, only they wanted to build it all from the top down instead of letting it grow organically..

Lots of hype and doubtless plenty of development work and design-by-committee ensued. It couldn't have been any small amount of effort to get all these DC big shots to sign on & have their communications staff write things for the site as if they were really posting there. Some geniuses (a committee of them, I bet) decided that instead of categories organized in a sane, user-friendly way, they'd create these things called Issue Loops, and you could.. uh.. connect yourself to one, or follow it, or something. Well, if the site worked. Which it didn't, because it was a bloated monster probably built in .NET (ok, research reveals it was, of course, built in .NET) with a horrible ugly interface and slooooow load time and.. It was just amazing, it was so bad. Within about three days of launch you could tell no one was really trying to use it.. within a week you'd see "we're working on stuff, honest" type of messages from management, within a couple months it.. effectively disappeared. You can find a few traces here and there if you google around.. try searching for the name + Ron Fournier, who left the AP for a time to be the editor in chief.

Here's a very good blog post summarizing the situation not long after it went live..
posted by citron at 7:35 PM on February 17, 2009

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