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The Gatekeeper’s Dilemma: How Do You Tell Good Ideas from Bad?

28 October 2008 by IESE

On the day after New Years’ Eve, 1962, the nervous young band members and their manager entered the Decca record studio to do an audition for a contract. The manager had great confidence in the band’s potential, but he had trouble convincing the record labels to offer them a contract. He had only managed to get that day’s audition with Decca because he had privately contacted the record label and, without the band’s knowledge, offered to pay the cost of the audition out of his own pocket.

The tape that the band recorded that day, containing 15 songs, was sent to one of the record label’s producers, Dick Rowe. Rowe, an experienced professional with more than 20 years in the business, was known as a great talent spotter, and spent most of his time searching for new bands. After he had listened to the recording, Rowe contacted the manager, bringing bad news. Rowe was sorry; he did not think the band had commercial potential, and under no circumstances would Decca offer them a recording contract. He then made the statement that would become his public epitaph: “Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein.”

If you are a professional gatekeeper for ideas, your worst nightmare is not that you will never find a breakthrough idea. The worst nightmare is that you will find it, but fail to recognise it.

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  • The Gatekeeper’s Dilemma: How Do You Tell Good Ideas from Bad?