Where Ideas Come From: Nature vs. Nurture

In the season of the stat, here’s a nice, big astounding one: In 2011, the forecasters atZenithOptimedia expected global ad spend to reach $464 billion. And they predict that number to go up to $486 billion in 2012, despite the world’s economic angst. Someone’s buying a lot of TV time, billboards and search ads out there. (Along with a dozen or so other media formats I haven’t mentioned or probably don’t know about.)

Advertising’s big business, to state the obvious. That’s why it’s sometimes easy to get lost in all those zeroes and media placements and forget where it all came from: the idea.

Ideas are the DNA of our work. They bring the message to life. They shape and connect its expression through various media formats. And, ultimately, they determine its fate. If an idea is good, you don’t necessarily need a lot of money to see it spread and flourish. If it’s bad, no amount of ad spend is going to save it. (New Coke and certain political candidates come to mind.)

The trick is coming up with one good idea. Just how and where are good ideas born?

Nature or nurture?

Some people are natural idea generators like Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs or Pat Gunkel. Gunkel, who once worked as an independent researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, came up with the science of ideas, called ideonomy. His plan: Map out and classify all manner of ideas and draw connections from them. Sounds like a brilliant idea, except it’s still in the backwater pages of an MIT website. Hmmm. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea after all, or one whose time has not yet come.

Some places are natural think tanks, like hot showers and cocktail napkins. They’re veritable petri dishes for new thinking, offering environments where random thoughts can mingle to create something new. Imagine how many great ideas have been born over suds, be it a brew or a morning shampoo.

Unfortunately, few of us are born geniuses. Typing in the shower’s impractical. And I’ll go out on a limb and say most agencies and marketing departments don’t want to get into the bar business, at least during normal working hours.

But your organization can encourage people to feel free to express themselves and explore. You can create an environment that enables various perspectives and disciplines to connect and cross over. You can create a culture of ideas.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Opening up our personal and organizational territories of hierarchy and expertise can be scary. But I’ll argue, it’s necessary. Now more than ever, business operates without boundaries, and so should our thinking. Ideas can come from anywhere, from the backstreets of New Delhi to the new guy in accounting to your local thrift shop. That’s exactly where the idea for the RedNek™ wine glass was born. Not too long ago, as Okie Morris went through a thrift store, she saw a Mason jar in one room and a glass candlestick holder in another, and inspiration struck.

“It just hit me to put these two items together and call it a redneck wine glass,” she said in a recent news story posted on CNN.com.

Now the RedNek wine glass is a bestseller on Amazon, earning more than $5 million in the first year for Carson Home Accents, which signed a licensing deal with Morris to manufacture and sell it. Pretty good for a novelty item that takes just $6.50 to make.

So as 2012 begins and we toast the birth of a new year, I invite you to take a sip from the RedNek wine glass, think of Pat Gunkel and write down on that cocktail napkin the happy returns you can expect when you invest in creating a culture of ideas. Cheers!

 

by Pamela McWhorter
Copywriter, gyro Cincinnati

Cross posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network