How to kill an idea?
It’s easy. All you do is walk up to it. It won’t run away.
Then, as it looks up at you trustingly, mistaking you for its mother, you smash in its skull with a baseball bat.
That’s what happens to great ideas around the world every day.
And the copy you’ve just read, extracted from one of the best print ads ever written by the legendary Lionel Hunt, would have never seen the light of day.
In fact, the title of this story almost suffered the same grisly fate, anticipating resistance to its ‘negativity’.
I could change the title, make it all nice and problem solved. Which leads me to my first point.
Stop whatever you’re doing for a minute and picture this: You are standing in a boardroom full of clients. It’s early in the morning. You can smell the coffee, pastries and cologne. People in nice shirts and power dresses having polite conversations. They sit there expectantly, waiting for you and your presentation. You look at them nervously, as you’re about to share your concept for a new organ donation campaign.
It’s called The biggest asshole in the world.
I mean, would you be able to do it?
Like, really, really do it? Now, seriously.
But the Martin Agency creatives did. Have you ever been to Richmond, Virginia? Not exactly one of the world’s creative hotspots. The Martin Agency lives there. And from there, they showed the world that fear is not an option.
The best creative people feel the fear but do it anyway. There isn’t really another choice.
Like there wasn’t another choice for the word ‘asshole’. On a recent talk, the Martin Agency’s team shared how they tried to find alternatives to replace this word at the client’s bequest, even engaging language experts to assist them. Nothing came close. At the end, it was the client themselves who demanded the word ‘asshole’ to be reinstated.
Powerful word. Which leads me to my next point.
A few years back, I attended a conference where one of the speakers told us the most creative word in the English language is ‘Yes’. He challenged the audience to find an alternative just as powerful. No one could. He gave us more time, and despite some clever suggestions like ‘Plus’, ‘Life’ or ‘God’, no other word came closer.
Giddy with excitement, we all looked at each other as if we’d discovered something that could change mankind forever. Little we knew, our speaker was about to crash our party by explaining that the opposite is equally as powerful but not nearly as creative. Its evil twin. The dark side equivalent required to bring balance to the force. The word ‘No’.
There are not two more powerful words in a person’s life than ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. These two words set the stage for transformation. New ideas get approved and funded with a ‘Yes’. Many more great ideas get killed with a ‘No’. The challenge for anyone who fancies themselves a creative leader is to determine which word is most appropriate for each situation. Tough task.
Are you fearless enough?
People get into trouble when they have a predilection for using one word over the other. Some try to be so optimistic and enthusiastic about every idea that comes their way that they can’t say ‘No’. Others are so risk averse that ‘No’ is all they know.
And the reality is, we all do it. We are all guilty. In life, we tend to say ‘No’ too often and ‘Yes’ not often enough. Especially us parents. It’s almost as if it was part of our job description.
Kids are relentless. They push and push and push. They never give up. Or at least not easily. Which leads me to my last point.
Giving up kills.
On a recent trip overseas, I had the rare opportunity to gorge on some new film releases.
I stumbled upon a little celebrated but powerfully directed film called The Founder, starring Michael Keaton, the story of Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame. Despite his evident ruthlessness, you can’t help but admire Kroc’s determination and drive to turn a small family business into one of the most successful corporations in the world.
Without giving too much away, in this film he shares his belief that talent, genius and education are just not enough. That without good old persistence and determination, great ideas do not survive. And I tend to agree.
It’s a lot easier to kill an idea than to give birth to one. A lot easier. When you kill an idea, that’s it. It goes away. It is really not that difficult. You just pull the trigger. You land that blow. You push that lever. Whatever your method, the result is the same. Killing it’s easy.
Or at least it looks that way in the movies.
But giving birth? Giving birth is bloody hard. Giving birth is painful. It’s blood, sweat and tears. It’s hard labour. And it doesn’t stop there. After birth, there’s the rearing. The nurturing. The bringing up of that idea so it doesn’t die an early death, caring for it until it is fully grown. Keeping an idea alive is just as hard as giving birth to one. Just ask your mum.
We are at a crossroads at the moment. An obsession with numbers and data. Business consultancies, experts in percentages, statistics and research, are at us with charts, data visualisation and audience segmentations, presenting our clients with potential business results even before a creative solution has been developed.
Great ideas are at an all-time premium. Some would say they have become an endangered species. And how not? Killing them is easy.
David Ponce De León is executive creative director of Ogilvy Melbourne.