I wish we would stop talking about big ideas

 

 

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“[an] idea is a powerful thing — but it’s just an idea. It’s a sketch before the painting.

 

The truth is that an idea is rarely an answer.

 

It’s usually a hunch wrapped in a bundle of unanswered strategic, operational, technical, and financial questions.”

 

———–

Mark Payne

 

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“With an apple I will astonish Paris.”

 

———–

Paul Cezanne

 

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So.

 

Could you ever imagine a business person suggesting surprising the world with one of the most ordinary common things in Life … an apple?

 

People would think that person was crazy.

 

 

“We need something new.”

 

“We need to be unique.”

 

 

Well.

 

Let’s face it.

 

Most new things suck.

Most new ideas are just bad.

And most new shit just stinks.

 

Which leads me to say several things upfront:

 

  • The concept of Big ideas in marketing is crap. Yup. Crap.

 

 

  • Confusing a bunch of tactics with a big strategic idea is just plain stupid.

As a corollary to the above statement … iterative tactics without a strategy idea is insane <it is just a race to the bottom>.

 

 

  • If you can get paid for having no ideas … do anything to keep that job.

 

 

  • Small <with sharp edges or points> ideas, even the ordinary looking ones, may be uncool but exponentially cooler than no idea and infinitely better than supposed big ideas.

 

 

Look.

 

I truly believe the entire big idea discussion is crap and misguides organizations to aim for the wrong things <and encourages organizations to overlook some big things>.

 

Success is all about tiny sharp insights.

Sharp insights that have the possibility of expanding to something big <unfortunately I now have a visual of one of those stupid little sponges that expand when you put a drop of water on them>.

 

Yeah. It is quite possible saying Big Ideas are crap is overstating it a little, but I can unequivocally state that the entire process to “find” or “uncover” the Big idea is crap.

 

Huh?

 

Simply by starting your thought process out with this question you have complicated your business thinking and in fact you are saying you are seeking the wrong thing. For in seeking something big you have a tendency to discuss hollow good looking concepts which can easily be torn apart into meaningless little nothings.

 

Ideas are good in any shape or size <no ideas have no shape therefore … by this logic … are not good>.

 

I just tend to believe often big things come in very small packages when it comes to ideas. So if all you do is look for big packages … well … you are gonna be sorely disappointed when you open it up and look at the idea.

 

Maybe <and this is quite possible> I am missing something but what I seem to see in all this Big Idea mumbo jumbo is “hey, I don’t really have any idea so I am going to constantly implement a boatload of little tactics until some of them start working and then write up the idea.”

 

Pragmatic but not really that … uhm … great an idea.

 

Yeah.

I have certainly seen a great tactical idea generate a honed strategic idea but I can honestly say I have never seen anyone just throw a whole bunch of tactical shit up against the wall and see what sticks and then like a Rorschach test identify the strategic idea from the shape of the tactical shit.

 

Regardless.

 

It is kind of the way business in general seems to be evolving <to my dismay I may add> but good ideas die not because they aren’t “big” but mostly because they have to run the following gauntlet <with these things standing on each side>:

 

  1. Consensus

 

———

 

“A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.”

==

Abba Eban

———

 

The consensus & ideas concept gets stated like …“if I have an idea I want to share ownership so it succeeds.”

 

That is kind of the bullshit you hear.

 

Look.

 

A good idea is a good idea.

A great idea tends to have sharper edges to it <it can hurt a little and make some people feel a little uncomfortable>.

 

All I really know is that gaining consensus will only dull a sharp idea.

 

No debate.

 

A good idea, in fact, the best ideas, are typically borne of an individual not a consensus.

 

No debate.

 

As an acorn becomes an oak.

We should be seeking the acorn.

We should be seeking the people who have real ideas and learn to revel in the initial seeming smallness and power of what it is … and understand the gloriousness of what this little thing can become if it is watered and nurtured … not drowned in consensus.

 

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“Instead of meetings about meetings let’s barge into someone’s office w/ a great idea & figure out how to do it”

 

—-

Tom Goodwin

 

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Figure out a way to implement without consensus. Not saying it’s easy but that’s kind of the gig.

 

 

  1. Fear

 

 

To be fearless in a room full of fear is frustrating.

 

Fear is the biggest enemy of any idea … big, medium or small.

 

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“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

 

—-

Henry Louis Mencken

 

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Fear takes shape in organizations in a couple of ways:

 

 

  • Fear of being wrong or making a mistake.

 

This is a tough one.

Nowadays with employment being what it is many people are running scared.

 

And scared leadership is putting even more pressure on people to make fewer mistakes <rather than do more right things).

 

An iterative ideation process is a beautiful way to hide from making a mistake.

 

How can you be wrong if it is baked into an admitted iterative process?

 

 

  • Use data to make a subjective decision.

 

Ah.

This is where research comes in.

 

In other words “why use common sense and our knowledge when we can implement a congruent multi phase segmentation study that identifies the double helix DNA of our desired customer.” <or some other bullshit you hear in the business world>

 

I believe big research studies don’t produce big ideas.

 

But.

 

If you have patience and look hard enough typically within this big research study you can probably mine a little sharp looking diamond of an idea that can make a big difference.

 

But most organizations don’t use research that way.

 

They use research to make a decision for them. They use data out of fear.

 

All that said.

 

In the end I remind everyone of something I said in the beginning:

 

 

“With an apple I will astonish the world.”

 

 

I wish more businesses would think this way.

 

But.

 

Small & ordinary isn’t sexy in … wll .. anythi. It needs to be Big & extraordinary to be meaningful.

 

This is crazy.

 

We need more people talking about making the ordinary extraordinary and that small sharp ideas are the ones which break through a fairly cluttered world.

 

Within the ordinary always resides a small mundane thing. And it is easy to focus on the mundane as common, useless or even pedantic.

 

Yet each ‘ordinary thing’ also has the capacity, if we are open to it, to usher us into an experience of  something extraordinary … usher us into some new way of looking at the ordinary … usher us into some new way of experiencing the ordinary.

 

Even the ordinary contains infinite possibilities <if we would only seek it there>.

 

Within finite often resides the infinite.

 

Within each of us ordinary people resides something extraordinary.

 

I mention that last point about us ordinary everyday schmucks <people> because we need to remind ourselves something experts have been trying to tell us for quite some time … “ no one is born a genius … genius takes time and opportunity to develop.”

 

David Shenk <The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ> described genius as a process, not something someone has or is borne with, but rather something that someone does.

 

We all have some genius within us.

We all have the ability to take something ordinary and surprise the world with something extraordinary.

 

This belief, this understanding of self, far too often is trampled in the rush to get things done and the search for ‘something new’ and gets suffocated in rooms of consensus.

 

It’s sad that as we rush up & down the hallways of our businesses we tend to overlook the opportunities in the ordinary.

 

<sigh>

 

Surprise the world with an apple.

 

What a fucking awesome thought.

 

Just seek the small sharp insightful seemingly ordinary looking ideas … and stick it to the competition.

 

 

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Written by Bruce