Thought leadership

What is a ‘Great Idea’?

As you can tell from our manifesto, we take ideas seriously at L’Institut. We’ve built our company on the idea that ‘Great Ideas’ are everything. They are what make human beings the world-changing creatures we are. They drive the expansion and evolution of civilization, and they can create entire companies and even industries by their power to move large numbers of people to organize their behaviours in a certain way. Great ideas shape our thinking and decisions. They are notoriously difficult to see at times, especially once they’ve embedded themselves into our thinking. They become ‘the water in which we swim’.

So what do we mean when we refer to a ‘great’ idea? What’s the difference between that and a more run of the mill idea?

Let’s begin with the word ‘idea’ and go from there…

According to Merriam-Webster, an idea is:

–        a thought, plan, or suggestion about what to do

–        an opinion or belief

–        something that you imagine or picture in your mind

While all 3 of these definitions apply to this discussion, the first definition is the most pertinent to business: “a thought, plan or suggestion about what to do.” As business leaders, we’re action-oriented, we like to get things done and accomplish results. Therefore, the question we’re perennially asking is: What is the best thing to do? And what is the correct sequence of steps?

To L’Institut, a ‘Great Idea’ is one that is fundamental to the inherent greatness of the business, and potentially transformative.

But before we leap into action, we must have a thought, and then a plan. And far too many leaders take action before there is deeper thinking and inspiration about what will maximize the potential of their business. And then there are legions of advertising agencies that tout the importance of ‘big ideas’ and their ability to generate them. A ‘big idea’ is generally a tactical creative idea that will get you a sudden spurt of attention if you’re lucky. A stunt or campaign, for example. Helium zeppelins over a sports stadium blaring a slogan. A gesture that screams “look at me!” And as seductive as that is, it’s hardly enough in this century to truly succeed on a consistent basis.

To L’Institut, a ‘Great Idea’ is one that is fundamental to the inherent greatness of the business, and potentially transformative. An idea that is the underpinning of the organization’s raison d’etre, and one that is a renewable source of energy in the market. That idea of ‘renewable’ or ‘sustainable’ is key. Great ideas are an endless font of energy and attraction. They yield continual creativity and expression, without losing their original integrity.

The Starbucks idea of Third Place is a famous one. The idea that people need and deserve a third pillar in their lives beyond home and work, one that can be a universal and indulgent oasis for the premium coffee or tea drinker – has changed the landscape of the developed world.

The great idea of an assembly line, a la Henry Ford, transformed industry… Toyota’s great idea of ‘just in time’ supply chain management… Apple’s great idea of putting designing for human delight and creativity in front of technology…

In a lesser known but equally fascinating way, is the more recent idea behind Japanese retailer Muji. The word “Muji” is short for “Mujirushi Ryohin” in Japanese, which translates to “no branding, quality goods.” They do not advertise, and even their branding is minimal. The great idea behind Muji is the notion of simple, well-designed products you ‘wear’ as you move about – from clothing to notebooks and pens to carry-on items for flights – that serve their purpose without drawing attention to themselves. Paradoxically, this philosophy has brought them great word of mouth as they infiltrate markets such as New York, London, Toronto.

In short, what are the elements or characteristics of a Great Idea? They might include:

·       An idea that is core to the ultimate greatness of the business

·       An idea that takes a deeper unmet need in the marketplace and expresses it in a powerful way

·       An idea that will reinvent or transform the business – its operations, the way it talks about itself, the way it behaves, and the way it is experienced by the public

In subsequent posts, we will explore the history of great ideas, and the critical question: How do you go about discovering and developing a Great Idea?

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