What’s the Big Idea?

Greatness in leadership is often associated with being the “big idea” person. When most of us think “Big Idea,” we think of technology pioneers like Steve Jobs (personal computers), Jeff Hawkins (PDAs). Heck we might think of Ben Franklin (electricity!) or whoever it was that invented the Internet. And then there appears to be a gap between those “big idea” folks and us high-tech executives. Hooey I say.
Creating “Big Ideas” is available to all of us. While I do agree education, experience, connections, and intelligence play roles, here are some ideas to guide you. With this, I hope to debunk the myth of where great ideas come from, and help you generate “Big Ideas” in your field that help you and your company to win markets.

  1. Listen and Knit. Everyone can generate set of ideas of how to advance the business. First off, figuring out areas to solve. If you don’t already know, buy lunch with some folks who are in customer service, or sales or sales operations. These folks have a list of what’s broken and it’s usually communicated as “this sucks,” and “that’s broken.” For those of us listening, we can find the nuggets of issues that cause pain and angst inside the organization. I mention the three roles I did because often those folks have the keenest understanding of what’s going on in the market in areas the company can readily fix. Next, talk to lots of existing people within the organization about what they would do to solve the problems you have identified. There is a lot of power in being able to cut across silos to get access to ideas that are otherwise stuck in niches. And typically any one person has but one view of the elephant, but lacks a comprehensive picture. So the key is to spend some time and knit together the ideas that can solve the problems. So it’s listen for the problem, gather ideas from lots of places so you have a bin of solutions, and then knit together options that will “connect the dots” across the organization.
  2. Increase the Pipe. Get access to lots of new ideas. One way to be the big idea person is to get lots of input on possible directions. To do this you’ve got to be on the forefront of what’s going on and be a receptor of ideas. How do you do that? First off, make sure you’re aware of good organizations, websites, associations, blogs that are full of early ideas. That might take you a Saturday afternoon to research online. Then, open your spigot to those new sources. It can be overwhelming at first to be receiving so much new information, but the trick is to constantly be watching, screening, sorting. I find there are few ideas that are completely new, but lots of smaller ideas that need to be developed. Open the spigot, and set up an RSS aggregator which can be as simple as a My Yahoo! page. This means that you need to look at what specifically are you interested in. It can’t be 10 topics. But if you want to be a leader in how your company develops customer loyalty, then it’s important to look at lots of ways to do that.
  3. Plot it out. Put pen to paper. Make buckets or columns or doodle. Whatever works. But spend 30 minute slots just thinking of possibilities. Realistically, there are only a few buckets of new ideas. And sometimes we get so hung up that we can’t think straight. Just start developing columns of ideas: new products, new markets, new customers, tuned operations or programs. Then put yourself into a short exercise of generating ideas on paper. The odd part is that you don’t have to get it all right, you just need to get your brain exercised. And this kind of warm-up will let you know what you already know inside your head and help you to know what you still need to know.

Next month, I’ll continue this thought and talk about how to select amongst ideas to choose winning ones.

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