“Something special exists in everyone, it just needs uncovering.”
“I have so much I want to tell you, and nowhere to begin.”
Ideas, language, products. All are connected and all are essential.
Yes. You need a well functioning product or service, but you also need a well functioning idea with a language that functionally communicates it if you want to have a successful business product.
Note: I would argue that every good product has a special idea that exists within it and if you don’t articulate it well you simply have a commodity and will careen around your category in a bumper car race of similarity (albeit with different colors).
That said. Conceptually, I want to sell an idea so people buy a product (not sell a product so they buy into some idea of what it offers). To me, within that twist of words, and wording, resides success.
Let me share thoughts on each aspect.
Nassim Taleb suggested “loyalty to an idea is not a good thing for anyone.” I disagree. In fact, I would argue discerning what idea to be loyal to versus which ideas should be ‘loosely held’ may be one of the most important aspects of success.
** note: this may be what Taleb meant but it’s fun to disagree with him.
Ideas don’t need to be uncovered. Most are simply submerged or buried under bias, discomfort, political correctness and general societal bullshit.
Once they arise from all that muck some really important conversations can happen where people realize that people are people and ideas can connect them.
We can accept that there is more in common then different between people so an idea, well articulated, can gather people.
We can accept that hopes and dreams are fairly equal even among what seems like in unequal dispersion of their hopes & dreams.
If you accept this, even embrace this, you stop restricting possibilities and stop viewing conversations around ideas in a restrictive way, but rather the fact a belief an idea offers a center on which other ideas can collect around. This is an important thought because if you viewed this same concept through the lens of ‘I sell products, not ideas’ you would actually have to be in the product line extension/innovation business because that’s what collects around a product-centric view. Products have value, but ideas with products attached is multiplicative value.
Now. I will unequivocally state that ideas are a dime a dozen (albeit not all are created equal) and multiple products can actually serve the same idea, therefore, how you articulate the idea, and what language gets ‘coded’ to that idea/product combination matters – a lot.
Language, or words, are the oxygen (or carbon monoxide) to ideas. Languages and words tap into the attitudes, influences behavior and shapes culture. The right word, or combination of words, shapes what we pay attention to as well as HOW we pay attention to what is being said and who is saying it.
** two better books discussing words, diametrically opposed in terms of style and how things are discussed, are How to Speak Human/Jackson & Jackson & The Symbolic Species/Terrence Deacon.
Words then establish some expectations, or cultural ‘permissions’, tapping into biases and experiences (either locking them or unlocking them). And, ultimately, words shape culture. While they certainly can amplify differences, they can also foster a shared sense of identity – at best bridging perceived differences and establishing commonalities (unearthing what has been unseen or ignored). I will say that the most effective words are words typically derived from established stories or narratives.
“The story you attach to something is just as important to creating the value as the product itself.”
Therefore, for a product to be grounded in an idea that idea needs words, language and stories to craft its place in culture. This is often called “linguistics influence” (language plays a role in guiding thoughts, attitudes and perceptions).
**note: people should not confuse this with ‘perception is reality.’ Perceptions shape the value of reality. That distinction is important because the moment there is misalignment between perceptions and reality (the product or experience) then there is dissonance in the mental structure which makes it unavailable to distinction.
Words influence how we think about things conceptually. That means if we can articulate an idea in the right way, the words (embodying an idea) can frame, or reframe, the entire conversation. It is here we should think of words, and conversations, as an expansive tool not a restrictive tool. This is important because words influence focus (which is tied to attention) highlighting some information, yet, opens us up to additional information. All this to say for an idea to not only exist, but prosper, it must have a language and words.
Truly meaningful differentiated products are anomaly – they are in fact like unicorns (okay, how about like protected species). That doesn’t mean we don’t bend ourselves into pretzels trying to convince ourselves we have differentiated our product in some meaningful way. I often call this the ‘differentiation rabbit hole.’ I would argue, and have, make your product functionally great against a specific need (or want) and then articulate your idea in a distinct way and you will not only sell a viable product, but create a value proposition so it can be healthy in the marketplace.
Let me be clear. If you do not have a functional, preferably functionally good, offering, no matter what language you use, no matter what story you create, you will fail. It may not be today, or even tomorrow, but inevitably your business will crumble under the weight of failed expectations.
Let me be clear. If you do not understand the difference between need and want, you have a 50/50 chance your idea will crumble under the weight of your wrong choice of what it is you offer.
A quick thought on the relationship between people and ideas.
The universe can be confusing in that we can see distribution connections (the internet, globalized shipping, technology, mail, etc) as the creator of what is successful and what is not. The truth is that it is humans who disseminate and distribute ideas. This is important because this eliminates biological spread as a way of growth or death. Instead we should be viewing the relationship in a mental way. There are too many studies to source that have dealt with the question of what causes a particular idea to engage and spread. It is difficult to characterize which ideas gain success, and which don’t, because, well, ideas are used by humans to spread & be distributed. The idea has no control of its own survival. Its survival resides in the imperfections of humans. Maybe said another way – it is important to understand despite our illusion humans are in control of the development and implementation of ideas; they don’t work for us, we work for them – we serve as machines or distribution widgets/system for spreading ideas.
Which leads me to amplification (or speed) and ideas. We far too often speak of engagement as the key to ideas when we should actually be assessing the interaction of humans and ideas with velocity in mind. If humans control ideas then they also have the opportunity to not only dictate their survival but also an ideas ability to thrive – an idea can survive in a small corner of the world or dominate the world (not all survival is created equal).
All that said.
Ideas are dependent upon people. In other words, if no human cares about your idea, it does not exist.
Ok. Let me share an example of a neat little startup I have had the privilege of assisting. It’s a company called Dope Coffee. Yes. It’s a coffee business and brand, but its actually an idea for which the coffee products are simply a means to sharing the idea. the brand idea has principled aspects all of which insure a cohesive in messaging and a coherence in ideas it collects, strategies it pursues and tactics it implements.
About Dope Coffee. Dope coffee, dope culture, a dope society, a dope conversation.
A company of creatives who use coffee as a medium to tell black culture’s story one cup of coffee at a time.
Sometimes a product is a means to an end. Sometimes a product is created not to solve a problem, but rather to not fail the moment & the idea. In fact. Sometimes a product is created to insure it is crafted to INSURE the moment happens. That is Dope Coffee. As a product the coffee has been crafted to linger on the taste buds so the drinker wants to linger in the moment and linger on the conversations that occur over a cup of coffee. And within the moment, and moments, resides the Dope Coffee idea.
Dope Coffee is an idea captured in products people can use.
Society according to Dope.
Exclusion is easy. It’s easy because society thrives on binaries. It’s us versus them, black versus white, good versus bad. Its also wrong. The strength of society resides in inclusion not “versus.” The strength of society is a better world in which we all get to maintain our individuality without sacrificing community. That means someone can be black and be true to a black community AND seamlessly thrive within the larger community. Yes. We believe black people can be uncompromisingly black without being exclusive, in fact, through black culture society can see inclusivity through fresh eyes. Conversely we believe white people (or any race) can be uncompromisingly white without being exclusive.
Culture according to Dope.
Being black is inclusive, not exclusive. There are more things in common than uncommon. In fact, I’d point out the language of black America, the culture of black America, is part of the weave that unites America. Just as words can divide, they can unite. In fact, words, commonly understood, may be one of the greatest bonding ‘tools’ in existence. Dope is a way of speaking, way of thinking and way of Life. Its black culture, captured in cultural language, capturing a multi-colored world in a common narrative.
Coffee according to Dope.
A cup of coffee is a connection to a conversation between people, thoughts & ideas – either self reflectively or in engaging with others. It creates an intersection in which we can linger upon the important things. We have crafted a coffee with this intention in mind – texture, tone, taste – to reflect upon what connects us, not divides us. We see our coffee as, well, dope. Dope in that in its excellence it permits people to reflect upon what good the world offers rather than dwell on the bad.
Black coffee using black culture to create a brighter world view one conversation at a time.
Dope Coffee is an idea which collects ideas. Therein lies the power of being an idea and not just a product. The core idea, always revolving around a product which tends to be an energy source for connecting, is a collection of ideas (whatever makes up the individuals’ conversations & thinking of that moment).
This makes idea selling a little tricky, but expansive in its potential. The larger idea is simple, in and of itself, and coffee is simple in and of itself, yet, the conversation is complex in its variety of depths and dimensions. But that’s how we navigate complex ideas and a complex world – by offering a lily pad of certainty people can settle on (if but for a moment) so that complexity can be faced well.
Ideas, language and products.
Far too often we parse these out or choose that one is more important than another when, instead, we should embrace the ‘weave’ which binds a good brand positioning in the market place. It is most likely when you do weave them all together the ‘package’ will be distributed and used by humans (people).
Drink a cup of coffee, think about the Dope idea (or any dope idea), and see where it takes you. This type of thinking, about ideas, is expansive in a good way. Its complexity in a good way.
There are a few sentence/phrases in this piece which I pulled from little scribbled notes I made over time. There is a possibility I am using, verbatim, something that someone else crafted. I apologize and would be happy to source if I knew the source. As Rob Estreitinho has pointed out – I am a gentleman thief.