How to grow an idea pool – Sumit Roy
(Sumit Roy runs the world’s smallest “learn-by-earning university”: www.univbrands.com . It has just one employee – him. Yet it has ‘students’ spread across USA, UK, Russia, South Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Australia. He learnt how to grow brands at Ogilvy. He learnt how to grow people who grow brands at Lintas. He has been studying and practicing Idea Management since 1987.)
Did you know that every human being knows how to swim at birth? Yet, most of us have to re-learn how to swim.
Actually, all mammals can swim. Elephants can. So can the smallest field mouse. We learn to swim in our mother’s wombs. (In Japan, new born children are kept in warm water. And they don’t sink.)
The human child then gets educated. We are taught to fear water. “Don’t go near water. If water gets into your lungs you will drown”.
The elephant parent figure or the field mouse parent figure apparently don’t tell their offspring this. Ever. So when the occasion requires it, they swim through the “problem”.
So it is with ideas.
As children we are extremely imaginative. We were born with the ability to connect disparate dots – the very definition of an idea – connecting two things that have not been connected before.
And then we get educated.
We are taught to fear what has not already been tried and tested. It’s curiosity, we are told, that killed the cat.
Our natural curiosity, as a child, allowed us to ask: what if this block of wood was a car? Having found the connection, we could play with it for hours. If necessary, that car would morph to a rocket or a ship in a matter of seconds. Till a doting parent said: “No, beta, this is a car. See, it has four wheels, a passenger cabin, a bonnet and a boot. It even sounds like a car.” (What they did not say was “See, it’s also red and shiny and has the fog lamps I want on my car! Am I not a good parent to buy this toy one for you?”)
Those Lego guys got it right. Any block that fits into another block can be made to be anything you want.
Unfortunately our education is not based on Lego but is geared instead to teach us there is just one right answer to every problem. And if you can say that right answer, by rote, clearer than the other clones the system produces, you will advance in life. (Even Lego now has to market a “one good solution”, as a picture, on the carton, for the benefit of the adult, while the children secretly hoard all the Lego pieces they can get!)
In the growing years, from child to adult, we are taught to conform. Pretty soon corporate boardrooms are filled with ideas that are tried, tested and already at the end of their lifecycle. With a bell here and a whistle there, we bravely try change the sinking curve.
“Why don’t you come up with something new?” says the desperate head of the conference table.
And everyone dutifully goes about listing out all the existing synonyms for new.
So, how do you create an idea pool?
First, define the business you are really in. Are you in the candle making business? Or in the romance business? If you want to create a brand, opt for the emotionale.
(This is tough enough. The MBA in you will cry “But we have no figures for the size of the ‘romance’ market! We do know how many candles are sold though, at least in the organized sector.”)
Second, make it a rule that anyone who criticizes an idea, at the idea generation stage, has to come up with two more ideas. Even if the criticism comes from the person at the head of the table who asked for something new. He or she, too, has to then come up with two more ideas. Build on the idea, if you like. But don’t kill it.
Pretty soon you’ll be inundated with ideas that can generate new revenues for the romance business. Flowers, candies, fine dining restaurants, novels, secret lovers day, love bands, couches, chairs, glasses, memory boxes, balms, triangles, lanterns, fortune cookies … and if anyone criticizes them, ask them for two more ideas.
After you’ve got enough of an idea pool, the selection process can be as simple as the vision of the company/brand. (What, you don’t have an insightful vision? Go back to step one!).
And if the person at the head of the table still thinks they are in the candle business, why, you’ve got a whole list of new candle shapes to make just by dipping into the idea pool.
Fortunately the child in us never dies. We’ll always find a way to connect the dots.
As long as there is no parent figure saying, “Don’t go near the idea pool. If your idea fails, you sink with it.”
Fear trumps the freedom anyone needs to ideate.
If you need an idea pool, set up a culture that helps people lose the fear of criticism. Make it a rule that anyone who criticizes an idea has to come up with two more. Negative energy becomes positive energy.
Soon the best ideas will easily be visible in the idea pool. As long as you have the vision for your brand clear.
Did you kill an idea today? Good, float two more.
What do you currently do to keep your idea pool full?
“I like what Sumit Roy says. Fear trumps the freedom anyone needs to ideate. What do you think?” asked Prasna**
“Prasna, Sumit and I have grown together. I like everything he does. His passion and commitment for anything he does is amazing.Very few people would have had the guts to do what he does with Univbrands. He has a huge fan following amongst students he has trained.”
**Prasna Rao is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms. You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach