Why do Good Ideas Die?

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I’ve worked in advertising and marketing for the last (gulp!) 18 years. In that time I’ve seen lots of good ideas die. In thinking through why, I’ve narrowed the reasons into three main themes:

  1. Ideas were not connected to a strategy
  2. Ideas were not thought through
  3. There were just too many ideas

Ideas were not connected to a strategy – In the ideal world leaders would set clear visions. Then, objectives, strategies and programs would all fall in line. Wouldn’t that be nice? (Pause) Well, unfortunately we do not live in the ideal world. With the frantic pace of change, it can be hard enough staying afloat, let alone, setting a vision. Because of the lack of vision, those of us involved in creating ideas are left to guess at what would make leaders happy. In this scenario, ideas drive visions rather than what should happen…visions drive ideas. The danger in having ideas as the driver is that the fate of programs, and sometimes organizations, lies in the subjectivity of an idea.

For example, in advertising, ideas take the form of creative concepts. In essence, colors, font choices, headlines and photography substitute for a clearly articulated business strategy. When ideas substitute for strategy, good ideas sometimes die a senseless death. How can we avoid this? By setting tangible goals upfront. Goals are actionable, measurable, and have clear time frames. Notice I recommended setting goals rather than a vision. Why? First, goals are more understandable. Second, if folks are uncomfortable setting visions, you’re only asking for trouble if you ask for one.

Ideas were not thought through – Have you ever been in a brainstorming or ideation session with people who love to ideate? What tends to happen in these types of brainstorms is that lots of ideas are thrown on the table, but none are fully thought through. One of the reasons for this is folks who are good at thinking through ideas are either not invited to participate in the session, or are drowned out by idea-types. When ideas are not thought through, they eventually die. I suppose some tenacious ideas do make it. But they live on the nail biting backs of folks who conquer huge obstacles – those who would have thought the idea through had they been active participants. You get the picture. Teamwork amongst idea-folks and implementer-folks helps good ideas see the light of day.

There were just too many ideas – And, sometimes good ideas die because there are just too many of them. There are only so many things a person or team can accomplish. Ideas do need to die from time to time. It is a natural cycle. What to do in this case? Reduce the number of ideas you decide to implement and recycle ideas for another time.

For more on ideas, see Is there a Right Way to Brainstorm?

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