You Don’t Know Your Best Ideas

photo of a row of light bulbs

Like Edison, Disney, and Kroc, You Will Know Your Best Ideas Only After the Test of Time

Some of the best (and worst) marketing ideas proved critical in the biographies of successful innovators like Thomas Edison, Walt Disney or Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s.  

We remember these successful men for their brilliant ideas.  

But we tend to forget their bad ideas.  

What makes an idea “good” or “bad”?  

The test of time.

Good and even great ideas fail.  

Example:  Edison invented a machine to rapidly tally votes in Congress.  The invention was a failure.  Why?  Members of Congress used delays in voting to negotiate political deals.  After this experience, Edison swore he would never again invent something that no one wanted.

Which Ideas Lead to Success?

If you study successful people, you will discover that many of them tried all kinds of different ideas.  It took at least one of those ideas to be a very good one to make them successful.  Did they know their best ideas then?  No.  Otherwise they wouldn’t have tried all the others!

Ray Kroc recognized a great idea in a chain of restaurants operated by the McDonald’s brothers

The idea was there:  Hamburger stands that served a limited menu with speedy service.  The McDonald’s brothers were satisfied with a few restaurants.  Ray Kroc was not.  He bought the McDonald’s chain in 1961 for $2.7 million.

Was it a good idea pay $2.7 million,  a fortune in 1961, for the McDonald’s chain?

Of course.  The idea was brilliant.  We know that now.  McDonald’s golden arches now span the globe, including Las Vegas.Photo of Las Vegas McDonalds

Around that same time Ray Kroc had another great idea  

He approached Walt Disney, a friend he had met when they both trained to drive ambulances during World War I.  Kroc inquired  “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system.  I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disney Development.”

Disney agreed.  But with one condition.  Disney wanted to raise the price of french fries from 10 cents to 15 cents, and keep the profit.  Kroc thought the price would gouge his loyal customers.  Kroc declined.

Disneyland did not become the home of a McDonald’s  

None of us know our best ideas until they have passed the test of time.  Which ideas are going to be “game changers” isn’t obvious until the game has been played.

Was Kroc’s Disneyland decision a bad idea?  

Was it a bad idea to give up a McDonald’s in Disneyland over a nickel difference in the price of french fries?  How much would a bag of french fries cost in Disneyland today? How many new customers, and how much profit did McDonald’s lose over the decades?

Or was Kroc’s idea right on the money?

Is it possible that the 33% increase in french-fry prices would have undermined McDonald’s reputation early in the game?  Was Kroc, who showed good judgement in so many other decisions, right about Disney’s proposed high price for french fries and the reaction of his customers, mostly families?  Keep in mind that McDonald’s was building a reputation for uniform quality, cleanliness, family fun (like the very expensive ploy of giving kids access to straws and napkins).

Remember we are talking about a hypothetical business deal that never stood the test of time.

What do you think?

Fascinated by McDonald’s business success story?  Here are some books.  I recommend “Grinding It Out” by Ray Kroc himself.


Walt Disney biographyPhoto of Walt Disney ambulance driver


Author: AstroGremlin

Came to Earth recently.

9 thoughts on “You Don’t Know Your Best Ideas”

  1. Was there only one round of negotiation with the price of fries? Surely things aren’t that black and white. I think they both could have found a zone of acceptance and worked together. Being an exclusive fast food outlet within Disneyland would have contributed a great halo effect for McDonald’s which would have only boosted/accelerated their popularity.
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  2. I’ll go for 50-50 decision in case of Ray Kroc. Mcdonalds might be as famous as they could during their early stage if they tied up with Disneyland. However, looks like Ray is more people person who focuses more to his customer relationship than expanding his business. I guess its another great deed on his part. Anyway, Mcdonalds created their own name in our food chain industry now.

  3. Hi,

    The only way to test ideas is doing why it says: testing and testing more. With more in the field, you can get more chances.

    I didn’t know that story about the French fries and Disney, very interesting!

    This remember an advice said for one of the most important people on IBM, tens and tens years ago, about a machine that make paper copies, he said there were a very limited market hahah, then appeared Xerox with millions of machines everywhere.

    All the best,

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  4. You are absolutely correct. The only way to truly know the effect of an idea is the test of time.

    Therefore the answer to your question is obvious, Kroc was right because McDonald’s succeeded. Could it have done better? Sure. My gut goes with your idea that making a stand for low prices was important to McD’s development. After all it is a slippery slope, once you cave on one principle, the dominoes fall.

    Now if the answer to this question were, “Ray who?” then yeah, he would have been a bum who blew his chance.

    Only time tells.
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    1. Steve, it may sound strange, but as I wrote this it seemed almost “obvious” that Kroc missed an opportunity when he passed on Disney’s offer. Disneyland was pretty rinky dink when it first started, and McDonald’s was no giant. But they shared a philosophy: clean, wholesome and family friendly facilities. Disneyland helped other brands it adopted , such as Carnation, with its squeaky clean image. But, you could be right. Because it’s a hypothetical, we don’t have the test of time!

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