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Saturday, November 29, 2008

What good is an idea?

I recently completed some work with a group who is starting a viable business based on a concept that is coming to fruition. It started as an idea between a small group of people who were passionate and saw a need. They found the white space that exists between businesses already in their market and are finding ways to connect, improve the whole and be sustainable to ensure the wholeness.

Their approach is original - true innovation.

It has been hard work and they have been active in the process having spent the last two years physically involved to prove an idea they had been thinking about for a long time. They are now structuring the business and giving it a life. They are moving beyond themselves and are getting funding, advice, and help outside their areas of expertise.

So what good is an idea?

I did a quick search on the internet on how many thoughts we humans have a day and found anywhere between a couple of thousand to somewhere on the order of 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts. WOW! Somewhere among those numbers lie the many ideas we have to improve our current situations, heal our pasts and build success in the future. So, what is the value of an idea? Actually not much!

I have had the good fortune to work with many companies and individuals on ideas that could heal, solve current issues and grow their future. Ideas are not good or bad – they are only useful or not. If useful, what can float or sink an idea is as numerous as drops of water in the ocean. However, some generalizations can be made.

An idea can come too early

An idea that is too immature can fall victim to lack of viewpoints. This typically happens when we don’t want to see what will make an idea fail and it is the only viable way we think we have. We hoard it, hide it and coddle it.

I once had client that had a product idea, $10,000 and a plan to build it out of his garage. The plan was based on a few conversations, no marketing research, or plan to find other funding, partnerships or alliances, and a steely determination to become a millionaire. I fired myself from the project.

An idea can come too late

This can happen when we hold on too long or ask too late for input from others. When we wait too long to act on an idea either from fear of exposure or over analysis we can see our idea come to fruition at the hands of someone else. How many ideas have you had that have shown up in the marketplace, in your industry or company looking rather familiar to your own idea?

I remember the movie, Nightshift with Michael Keaton. It’s a pretty old movie and I am not sure it has made it to DVD, but in it Keaton plays a directionless character spending part of his time dictating ideas into his microcassette recorder (I told you it was old). He claims to have come up with the idea of Q-Tip swabs on his own, but someone else came up with it first. Sound familiar?
The other side is the lack of robust solutions when working on an idea. Have you ever had an idea shut down because some crucial information either through research or a knowledgeable person came too far down the development cycle to be integrated?

As a member of a large consulting firm, I managed a skills database and answered requests from other consultants on people in the firm who had specific skills building project teams and devising marketing plans. I got a call one day from an executive in the firm who had just found out that the competition was rolling out a service line based on a certain set of competencies and wanted to know who we had who could also provide these services. My search netted two people with a base set of knowledge in that area. It took two years of catch up at great expense in training, marketing and proposing to create a viable presence in that market - waiting too long with available signals in the market, put revenue at risk.

Our ideas are our own

The concept of owning our own ideas, destinies, fate, etc. is relatively new in civilization. Prior to today’s thinking, inventors, artists, scientist, philosophers and the like saw ideas and inspiration as a gift from God or the Gods. They considered themselves only a vehicle for their expression. They were driven beyond their own interests and saw their work as a mission. Relatively few, if any, Renaissance artists signed their work for the felt they were not the owners. One such exception was Michelangelo:

Michelangelo chiseled his name in his famous Pieta fearing he would not get credit. Known for his egotism, he nonetheless regretted this action for the rest of his life.

We are not in and of ourselves whole, our thoughts represent something more than our own egotistic need for power. We need more than ourselves.

Ideas can be controlled

Ideas are like everything else. Although conceived in our internal environments (our brains), ideas get life outside of us. Like children, conceived internally, we learn over time how little control we have over them as they mature and take on their own lives. Ideas must have their own lives in time – we can only be a part of their growth. We have to be good parents, managers, stewards of our ideas. In the book, Parenting through Love and Logic, it identifies the styles of parenting that influence positive growth and those that hamper, handicap or destroy growth. It’s a great philosophy for parenting and transitions into some powerful direction for business and concepts. For the purpose of this discussion, two ways of hampering ideas were inspired from the Love and Logic reading.

Overprotecting an idea

When we over protect an idea, hide it, hoard and don’t expose it to the light of reality, it withers. Not unlike children, ideas need light and life and other inputs beyond us. Without, it never gains the resistance it needs to exist in the outside world. Ideas need conflict and resolution, as no idea is conceived in maturity, it only grow in that direction through hard work and renewal. To come back as a mature business, product or service we have to let go a little and respect its need for other influences.

Overexposing an idea

We can alternately expose an immature idea too widely and too quickly having not given it the time it needs to mature and find its own way. When our egos get in the way and an idea serves only to show the world our brilliance, it can serve to prove just the opposite. It’s the classic pride before the fall. Not being a responsible steward to the idea and not working in its best interest we lose the perspective we need to make it work.

What have you seen that make ideas float or sink? I welcome your comments.

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