Money doesn’t make the world go round

February 21, 2019

Abba were wrong, I think.

It’s not ‘money, money, money’ that makes the world go round, which is what economists believe.

It’s not even ‘Love Actually’. Love makes us feel better, but it doesn’t help, as Benny and Bjorn wrote, with ‘all the bills I have to pay’.

What does make the world go round is a commodity in almost infinite supply, that any one of us is capable of producing.

It is something that drives all progress and change, and leads to economic growth.

It is mankind’s most potent weapon for solving problems, meeting challenges, and realising opportunities.

It is ideas.

There’s only one difficulty. We don’t have enough of them.

It’s not just that we can be creative and come up with ideas.

We needto be creative

The most important workplace skills going forward in the decade ahead – according to the World Economic Forum Future of Work Report – are solving complex problems, critical thinking and creativity

Notleadership, people skills, financial ability and so on

They’re all important. But they’re not fundamental any more

And the most important skills are certainly notthe ones business people spend their lives doing:

  • Going to meetings
  • Budgeting
  • Writing reports

The problems we all face – in pre-Brexit Britain and across the world – are increasingly threatening, and we need ideas faster than people can come up with them.

Ideas and creativity are far from the top of the agenda. Too few people are producing valuable ideas.

There is what we might call an ideas deficit, across nations, industries and organisations of all types.

Many in the workplace don’t think it is their job to come up with the ideas and innovations that are so desperately needed. There is an urban myth that ideas and creativity are what only experts can do.

It simply isn’t true. Ideas are not someone else’s job. They are what all of us should try to come up with and develop.

I was lucky enough to have worked for 25 years in a fascinating job. I was running competitive advertising pitches all over the world, and ideas were the inputs, outputs and tie-breakers

In effect I was commissioning ideas on behalf of the world’s biggest brands from the world’s most talented agencies, and helping to judge the winners.

In these pitch contests there is a great deal at stake. The clients are investing heavily to find the agency of their dreams. For the competing agencies, a big win can be a game-changer.

But more than half the time the decision comes down not to logic and ticking boxes, but to subjective reaction to people and the ideas they put forward.

Yes, chemistry is vital. People choose people. But my learning over those years was that the agency people the clients liked best, were almost always the ones presenting the ideas they liked.

That’s the halo effect of a seductive idea.

I have been talking about an idea in the singular, as though ideas were like Christmas, or the Prime Minister, or your partner.

But that’s not really what they are like.

Ideas are birds in a flock, or passengers on a train. The whole purpose of ideas is having plenty to choose from. Selecting ideas is as important as generating them.

If we want valuable ideas, it’s a numbers game

We need lots of ideas to get to the valuable ones. We need to be prolific. The dividend from being prolific is the security of knowing we are going to be able to choose a potentially strong one from a strong field.

It’s no coincidence that very famous people in the arts, entertainment, sport etc were all very prolific. We don’t remember the one hit wonders

What we want, whether it’s Edison registering a patent, Coca-Cola looking for a winner in a pitch, or an agency searching desperately to win that pitch is a valuable idea.

My book is about searching for valuable ideas. And in particular the one in a hundred, or even one in a thousand idea that is the idea equivalent of gold.

Basically an idea is a connection. A connection between something we have been briefed on, or seen, or heard, or touched, or smelled, and something already lodged or stored in our Idea Brain. Good ideas come from putting things together, and the more unusual or surprising the connection, the more impact it is likely to have on whoever we are selling to, or trying to convince.

We all carry round with us a potent piece of equipment with the ability to seek out very ideas and other valuable ideas. It’s not our Smartphone. It’s our Idea Brain.

It’s the Idea Brain that helps us make connections between new things and what is already stored in our Idea Brain’s filing system. 

Here are some tips for using it.

Be sure to switch off the autopilot. Most of us are coasting on autopilot around 80% of the time. Switch it off if you seriously need an idea. You are going to need all the brainpower and flexibility you can muster.

Have conversations with yourself. No one will think you odd. This new idea you’ve come up with may be important, and you need to rehearse it and debate it with yourself before sharing it with your friends or colleagues.

Go to sleep fast. But wake up slowly. Remember that you’ve been created as a 24/7 kind of person. You have access to terrific processing power when you’re asleep. And you should use it to solve problems. So, when you turn in for the night, don’t lie awake worrying about the problems you have failed to solve during the day. By morning you will probably have more answers than questions. And giving yourself time to plan the day while you doze into wakefulness is far more beneficial than leaping up in a panic

Just think how many very ideas you might be able to come up with if you’re thinking by day and processing by night!

About the Author

David Wethey is the author of The Very Idea, published by Urbane Business (2018).

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