Why Good Ideas Matter

or my entire life I have been in love with ideas. From the moment I could read I was in another world – the world of ideas – and it is the seductive gravity of ideas that continues, to this very day, to pull me towards books, towards blogs and towards people.

As a six or seven year old I was given a bedraggled pile of history workbooks to keep me quiet during the school holidays. Some were used and some were new. Some had covers, while others lay their knowledge bare from the very first page; yet in each and every book I saw promise. And as I began to read, it felt as though my mind was spreading out beyond the horizon.

But it is not just ideas that captured my imagination. After all, I was reading history books – and history is about events, achievement, challenges, outcomes and the stories of success and failure. In each and every chapter I was captured by the ideas of the explorers and enthralled by the way that the execution of their ideas led to astounding success or abject failure – and sometimes death. But the breathtaking aspect of history is the profound change that can sweep through the cultures left in its wake.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), very few of us can have this type of profound change on more than our immediate circle of friends or family. And the more ambitious we are with our ideas, the more resistance we are likely to encounter. In this presentation from the PFSK Good Ideas Salon, Mark Earls explains just how difficult and slow change can be – Heinz, for example, took over 120 years to change the orientation of the label on their sauce bottles.

It is Mark’s interesting take on ideas and the way that they can drive mass change that fascinates me. His well-known book, Herd is a must read for anyone trying to transform the way that we think and the way that we act – but if you are new to Mark’s thinking, this presentation is an excellent primer.

Mark argues that there are five reasons why new ideas matter:

  1. New ideas allow us to test the power and validity of our old ideas. The new ideas provide us a framework and a lens through which we can test the assumptions upon which we have built businesses, brands and successful careers
  2. New ideas help us to explore the future. Even if the ideas that we are considering don’t have longevity, they may actually create the conditions for lasting, transformative change (hint: it is important to play and participate)
  3. New ideas provide you (or your organisation) with hacks for new products. Given that a large percentage of new products fail within the first year (Mark suggests 90-95% in the UK), then new ideas can actually help you solve problems that you have yet to accommodate within your existing product or service portfolio.
  4. Engaging with new ideas allows us to move faster. Known as “memories of the future” (based on the work of Swedish neuroscientist, David Ingvar), our brains are constantly evaluating current information (conscious and unconscious signals) within a context that combines the immediate with “past events, experiences and acquired knowledge”: see Ulf Pilkahn’s Using Trends and Scenarios as Tools for Strategy Development. By working with new ideas we are able to assess and adapt to new, new ideas as they arise. Consider it a form of business agility.
  5. New ideas help improve the financial performance of our businesses – because a large percentage of our economies are based on services businesses, finding ways to engage and promote the social (person to person) interactions that lie at the heart of a services-based economy, we will invigorate and transform not just the way that our organisations operate, but also the network of relationships that surround them.

My view here is that the same conditions are mirrored in the social networking/social media world. Often when people are first introduced to blogs, to Facebook or to Twitter (or all three at once), they are overwhelmed and wonder how it is that they can deal with the avalanche of information. However, it is precisely because of this immersion (and the memories of the future effect in point 4 above) that PARTICIPANTS are able to absorb, assess and respond with ever increasing speed – after a while the shifting landscape no longer appears as dangerous as expected – and the "new" simply becomes the "next" if only for a moment.

4 thoughts on “Why Good Ideas Matter

  1. I like the ideas of Mark Earls, I will have to pick up his book ‘Herd’ sounds like it is right up my alley.
    I like his overall message, mostly what I seen that I agree with and have found to be true is that even if changes that are made are crap and fail for whatever reason you can still learn and evolve from it. I like the analogy that you have to play and participate.

  2. I love both ideas and history, especially on my breakfast cereal. But with my amateur knowledge of history, it seems so many past ideas and innovation were motivated by domination and wealth.
    Columbus may have been purely driven by bold curiosity, but the Spanish monarchy that funded his fleet and the Catholic church influencing them had designs on gold and religious expansion. The idea changed the world, but not without a great deal of turmoil and suffering.
    During Archimedes’ inventive life, he established fundamental rules of physics, solved a number of civil engineering problems and coined the first buzzword “Eureka”. But his bread and butter were war machines for an ancient Greece regularly under siege by the expanding Roman empire, ironically desiring the ideas and knowledge used to repel them.
    I believe social media not only facilitates an exchange of ideas, it will ease the previously tumultuous understanding and implementation of ideas. Irrespective of criticisms of sensationalizing, the WHO should be commended for the way they’ve disseminated information online about the Swine Flu. Imagine if those means of communication were available during the Black Plague, witch burnings and Jew lynchings would have been vastly reduced. Not to mention the possibility that sanitation, having widespread community ramifications, might be solved via crowd-sourcing?

  3. Great post mate. I was back there as a six year old or less with the books. What a wonderful gift to love reading without really being pushed into it. Of course I’ve shredded my attention with RSS but I’m hoping to take a train journey and rewire the brain to do some books. Fingers crossed it’ll work out
    But that point 4. It’s so close to how I describe the power of a really powerful new idea. It recontextulises everything I’ve ever learned and will ever learn which is like a hit to the brain up there with many of the recreational pharmaceuticals that I’ve clearly never tried.
    Good post. There’s a subtlety to Mark’s work which has a lot more durability than many of his peers. We’re going to be talking about Herd for a long long time.
    I think.

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