The Kangaroo Jack effect: what happens when nobody says no

Some big ideas are objectively terrible, yet are followed through on, resulting in a predictably terrible product. Kangaroo Jack comes to mind [1], as does the Bollywood production of Fight Club, in which some budding entrepreneurs start a for-profit fight club (market research and all). Here are some other terrible ideas from the startup world.

The interesting thing about these terrible ideas is that there were presumably several people who could have just said “no”. Political scientists call these people veto players. There are the financiers, the production houses, the directors, producers and so on. It’s an interesting dynamic that has veto players allow so many people to pour so much human effort into these thought farts.

I’m not sure why these ideas end up going ahead. It could be some combination of:

– Hindsight bias. Maybe Kangaroo Jack, Fight Club the musical etc. weren’t obviously terrible ideas at the outset?
– In some communities—think Hollywood and Silicon Valley—maybe everyone owes everyone, so people work on each other’s projects in order to curry favour.
– A lot of people do say no, yet the persistence of the bad idea’s champions ends up finding the dumb money or weak/stupid veto players.
– Both film production firms and VCs just play the numbers game, aware that many apparently dumb ideas end up paying off. Indeed, the Kangaroo Jack effect may be a feature of investment markets in which most investments make nothing, and a few make a huge amount.

I’d be interested to hear of your explanations/examples.

[1] Kangaroo Jack, despite being a terrible film, did turn a small profit, but “Bollywood version of Fight Club effect” doesn’t quite sound the same. The opportunity cost of funding Kangaroo Jack isn’t not making Kangaroo Jack; it’s not making The LEGO movie. I’m pretty sure the world is worse off due to Kangaroo Jack.

1 Comment

  1. Gordon said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

    I know Star Wars prequels were hugely profitable, but from a movie quality perspective they were awful. If you are a bit of a movie buff like me you might really enjoy the redlettermedia reviews of the star wars prequels (serial killer references aside). Yes, the reviews are almost as long as the actual movies, so you are investing 4+ hours into watching them, but he really makes a great point about the cost to the quality of the final product when allowing unquestioned decisions to be made by the director.

    Anyway, I found the reviews really interesting to help understand why I enjoy the movies I enjoy and dislike the movies I dislike but also I enjoyed trying to work out the objective functions of all players involved…

    And yes, I’m aware this is a tenuous link to your kangaroo jack example!

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