Ideas can go down as well as up

‘Ideas are like jokes and gifts’, David Wethey explains.

Researching the world of ideas and creativity for my new book THE VERY IDEA! has been a fascinating experience. I think we’ve all worked out that only a small minority of people in business are what you would call natural and consistent idea generators. My goal in writing the book is to encourage far more executives and managers to liberate their inner creativity, rather than fall back on the brief / feedback / micro-manage / approve routine. I have really enjoyed interviewing the planners, creatives and inventors who come up with the great ideas that drive change and progress. There are some brilliant tips to pass on, and I have every confidence that many of my readers will rise to the challenge and become consistent and prolific ideas people.

There is a ‘but’ however. Not all ideas – even ideas that we think are big ideas – are good and valuable. The same mental process – making connections between what we know already and what we have recently learned from looking at a problem or brief – that triggers powerful, game-changing ideas, can also produce bad and dangerous ideas. That’s why we need the filters and litmus tests that colleagues provide to scotch potentially disastrous flights of fancy. It is no good my egging on everyone to dream up more and more ideas if we have no mechanism for spotting the dangers of a rogue when we still have time to abort and go back to the drawing board.

A popular myth is that there is safety in numbers, in terms of making sure that contentious ideas are exposed to a lot of people to make sure that they won’t lead to disaster.

How different the world would be if that were true!

How much less hazardous life would be if the democratic process (you know elections, referendums and so on) saved us from truly awe-inspiring mistakes like Brexit, Trump or a hung parliament with the balance held by the DUP. There are obviously a myriad examples of one-off bad ideas. But what intrigues me is the bad idea that just gets worse as it plays out and triggers ever worse consequences and side effects.

Take Brexit for instance. The Referendum simply asked voters to decide whether to leave the European Union or remain within it. “Brexit” had a ring to it (more than “Leave”) and the behaviouralists tell us that positive action is instinctively more motivating than just carrying on doing the same old thing. 51.9% voted for Brexit. It’s probably fair to say that the vast majority did not understand what the Brexit idea meant (other than a vague Rule Britannia feeling), or what the short and long term consequences were likely to be. Suffice it to say that no divorce in history was ever so protracted, complicated or expensive. And worse still, Britain doesn’t even have someone else to sleep with.

Ideas are like jokes and gifts. The joke teller and the present giver are the last people to decide whether the joke is funny or the gift hits the spot. Only the recipient can do that. We have all worked out that idea generators are full of ideas. The first one off the production line is pretty unlikely to be the best we can do. We need a reasonable level of choice, and the time to look at pros and cons. Assessing reward and risk are essential to good decision making. Nearly all the politicians campaigning before the Referendum wanted the good bits of Europe without the bits that hacked us all off. The Referendum campaigns on both sides were badly planned and run, with no indication that a vote for Leave would turn into a bungee jump without the bungee.

So why do we allow ourselves to fall for politicians with daft ideas? Is it ignorance, or apathy? Is it the feeling we can’t make a difference? Or as in the case of the EU referendum or the US Presidential Election, is it simply that a choice between just two unattractive options is not really a valid choice at all – unless at least one of the ideas is well articulated?

Both being directly critical and sitting on the fence have a bad name. We are always being urged to make a positive choice – this idea, this candidate. But the next time you are asked to vote for an idea or a person that smells wrong now and could smell a lot worse down the line, tell it as it is, and stay on the fence (eg vote Remain) till something better comes along!

Read more at https://www.marketingsociety.com/the-library/ideas-can-go-down-well#kvhjEkbJqFUAsL0B.99

Idea begins with I

Surprisingly so do so many of the words associated with generating and developing ideas, for example:

Imagination, inspiration, innovation and invention.
Insight, intuition, intelligence and inclination.
Immersion, inclusion, introspection and interpretation.
Inversion, intervention and intrusion
Infusion, immersion and implosion.
Illusion, impression and illustration.

There are more. It’s almost uncanny.

There’s an urban myth that being an ‘ideas person’ is a highly differentiated ability, confined to very few people.

Having been researching the amazing world of ideas for some time now for my new book THE VERY IDEA!, I am convinced it is untrue. We are all wired to come up with ideas, share ideas, and develop ideas. How else would we be able to navigate the complicated world away from work? How could we solve problems and spot opportunities? How could we think laterally and surprise family and friends? It is the facility that all of us have to produce and embrace ideas that makes us what we are.

So it’s no coincidence that idea starts with I. Or that all those words above that describe some idea-related activity or process also start with ‘I’. Every one of us is an ‘I’ – however hard sometimes it is to believe it, when our individuality seems to be marginalised by the pressures of the world of work. There may be no ‘I’ in team, as the cliché goes. But when it comes to thinking and being creative, to start with at least, it’s just me and my brain.

Having said all of this, two heads ARE better than one. Two people is the human world’s most effective and blissful coupling. Just imagine. Double that idea capacity. Double all those other ’I’ abilities. When have you ever shared an idea with a colleague, partner and friend, and not been stimulated and inspired to look at this aspect differently, to see more potential in that one?

But that doesn’t mean five or six heads are necessarily better than one. Frequently having more people in a meeting results in more egos, more hot air, less clarity and less progress.

If the meeting hasn’t delivered, go back to you and your brain, get the ideas flowing, use some of the ‘I’ words, and when you are ready, add a friend and his/her brain. You won’t go far wrong!

Image: Stockimo | www.picfair.com

Read more at https://www.marketingsociety.com/the-library/idea-begins-i#RlIVSs0whHRpUxJt.99

What do you do at the office, Daddy?

It’s the classic daughter’s question. (But why daughter, rather than son, I don’t know.)

It was easier to answer in the old days of directors, who directed something specific, or managers who had something to manage. But we live in a team world. Being the office equivalent of a left wing back is harder to explain than being the on-site Federer or McIlroy. I remember in my early days as an aspiring agency boss being sent on a course called Finance for Non-Financial Managers. It was an excellent course and I learned a lot about the numbers I needed to take seriously, and the ones I could leave to somebody else.

Having written books on better decision-making and meeting practice (and having grown up in advertising, where target-marketing is second nature) I must admit to having had potential readers in mind. And here I’m not talking about generalisations. I had particular people in view – actual people with whom I have worked, and who were neither the most decisive individuals, nor kings or queens of the conference room. Is decision making a skill that we can all improve at? I firmly believe so. Equally knowing how to prepare for and run an important meeting is a hugely valuable ability, as those of us who frequently sit in such meetings when no such paragon is involved, will swiftly agree.

So if it’s helpful to explain to your daughter how crucial meetings and decisions are, is there one more key acquirable attribute you should mention as part of your in-office armoury? Apart from being good with people, which should include being empathetic, considerate and well-behaved, there is one additional skill I would advocate above all others. It relates to IDEAS – being good at coming up with them, being good at helping develop other people’s ideas, and always being ready to think your way around a problem and into an opportunity. Ideas are vital if we are to progress. If things get tough, ideas are essential for our survival. Of all the things we humans produce, ideas are at the same time the most fun to work on, and the most valuable.

The funny thing about idea skills is that a great many people are unduly modest about their own ability in this regard. Very few people will admit to being unpopular, or a bad parent or a poor driver, but you often find people saying that coming up with ideas is not their strength. Why, I can’t imagine. Admittedly a whole industry of external idea buffs has grown up. And within companies there is often a self-appointed coterie of thinkers outside the box, or whatever. For what it is worth, my decades of experience of working with client companies, and inside and with agencies tell me that almost every educated, ambitious, conscientious staffer (at whatever level) is very much an ideas person. Or, at the very least, they are people with potential. Let’s face it, you can’t survive outside the office without having ideas, so why should it be any different when you settle down at your desk or work station?

So I suggest you tell your daughter that the company pays you to have ideas, to work them up in meetings – alongside colleagues and their ideas – and to play a part in making important decisions. With a good showing in those three skill areas, you will be doing well, and your daughter should be impressed. Especially with the bit about being good at ideas!
This is David’s Marketing Society post for February. Read more at https://www.marketingsociety.com/the-library/what-do-you-do-office-daddy#YX6Stxpphkdx055L.99

What’s the best idea you never had?

2017 is my year of the idea. Having researched and written endlessly and passionately about decision making and meetings for the last six years, I am now going to be concentrating on the rocket fuel for both Smart Decision Making and the Mote Meeting System – powerful ideas.
I am fascinated by how we come up with ideas, how we share them by thinking together, how we develop them, and how we use them to achieve the outcomes and successes that business continually challenges us to achieve. It’s a big subject!

I am also fascinated by the other side of the coin – the times when we should have had a great idea, but didn’t. Also interested in the times we had the germ of a great idea, but didn’t succeed in selling it or exploiting it. That is why I have asked you the question in the headline. Can you think of occasions when your business or personal life might have been transformed if only you’d had a killer idea or successfully pitched it? What went wrong? Was it your fault – or someone else’s? Was there anything more – or different – that you could have done?

If love is what makes the world go round, ideas are truly what enable us to understand it and change it. We live in a world of big money, big numbers and big data. Yet individuals – even very powerful ones – can’t have much influence over the money, the numbers and the data.

How very different with ideas! We can’t solve problems (or even understand them) without ideas. We cannot appreciate opportunities, let alone realise them, without ideas. We need ideas to take to meetings. In the meetings we have to contribute to the refinement and finessing of ideas. When we are part of a decision making team we must treat ideas as the raw material for solutions, outcomes and transformations.

There is an urban myth that only some of us are capable of coming up with any ideas, let alone great, game-changing ones. I have been extensively researching and trawling for insights among academics, business gurus, philosophers and psychologists. I believe strongly that we all can be idea generators, idea sharers, idea developers, and idea communicators. We just have to have confidence, and take some tips on board – the most important of which is that thinking together in a team is just as valuable a skill as dreaming up original ideas in the bath.

A lifetime in advertising has given me a deep respect for ideas, without which marketers can’t make their brands successful and competitive. But admen use the idea word both for ingredients (the ‘big idea’ in a pitch) and the finished dish. There is usually a lot of hard work in between the eureka moment and the awards ceremony. To become a true idea-meister we need put the same priority on the plated dish as on the promising ingredient. We also need to have as much respect for your idea and their idea as ‘my idea’.

And there is invaluable learning for us all from the missed opportunities, the botched decisions and the ideas we never had.
This is David’s Marketing Society blog for January 2017. Read more at https://www.marketingsociety.com/the-library/what%E2%80%99s-best-idea-you-never-had#rSokV5C7EbPo5Dzc.99