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June 4, 2008
Ideas. Your Best Shot at Immortality

“Cryogenics aside, ideas are your best shot at immortality.” This headline from a recent ad promoting iShares investments spoke to me.

Think about it. Every big decision in life or advancement for mankind starts with an idea. A man gets the idea to propose. A couple gets the idea to start a family. A 17 year-old Idaho farm boy had the idea of transmitting captured light in a series of individual lines of electron beams. That farm boy, Philo Farnsworth, invented television. Not a bad idea, eh?

Ideas inspire. Ideas solve problems. Ideas create competitive advantages. Ideas bring us together. Ideas, the really good ones anyway, are big, bold and usually controversial because they challenge the status quo.

That’s the Achilles’ heel of ideas. The bigger the idea, the more likely it will be subjected to paralysis by analysis or diluted by overzealous lawyers who wouldn’t know a calculated business risk if it landed on their wingtips. The result? Big ideas die everyday in conference rooms across America.

What can we do to support big ideas? Let’s look at what Target is doing. They hold a Big Idea contest. Every month, big thinkers in various fields contribute ideas that solve problems or view things differently. The winner gets a cash prize for coming up with ideas like color-coding prescription bottles so family members don’t mix up their meds.

Another secret to Target is they don’t blame those who come up with ideas that result in failure. In the article I read, Target president, Gregg Steinhafel, was quoted as saying, “We recognize that when we do fail, we make the course corrections and we don’t penalize the teams that have made these calculated risks.”

Alrighty, let’s talk shop. What do clients want from us today? Ideas! In fact, I’ve got one client who wants regular deliveries of big ideas—creative, media, process, whatever.

So how can we get better at coming up with ideas? A perfect environment for ideation is like an incubator with eggs (ideas) you’re trying to hatch. An incubator is a nurturing environment with the temperature (working conditions) just right and the eggs (ideas) completely protected from dangers outside. In the incubator, the eggs (ideas) must be properly attended to. They must be turned over several times a day so embryos (thoughtlets) don’t perish. You must be patient for your eggs (ideas) to hatch. You can’t subject them to strict deadlines or hurry up the process. Winning formula: treat ideation more like an incubator and you’ll get better ideas.

Coming up with great ideas is only half the battle. The other half is selling great ideas. Why? Good ideas are never bought; they’re sold. It takes the power of persuasion.

Just think. Your next big idea might just be your shot at immortality.

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Mike Ogden is a digital/senior writer based in Kansas City. Ad agency stops have enabled him to create for major brands like American Century, Capital One, Sprint, and USAA. Seasoned and sharp with a touch of gray, Ogden, aka Og, is known for creating and championing ideas. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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