Go on, do it. Go for a walk. Not right now, you’re reading this but after you read this, take a walk. Why? Because you’ll clear your mind and that’s when an idea will come. A great big world-changing idea! Or a tiny little idea. Or a reminder to pick up milk later. Whatever, it all happens when you take a walk. Many of us are expected to be creative on demand – that’s what we get paid for. And we’re pretty good at it most of the time. But some days, the ideas don’t come easily. We sit at our desks, look at our colleagues, make another coffee, stare at a blank screen, flick through our notebooks but nothing happens. Where is it? Where is that idea? It’s outside. It’s in the park. It’s up the street. It may even be right outside your door – the moment you step away from your desk, it hits you.
When I was interviewing marketers and CEOs for my first book in 1997, they would tell you that the product didn’t matter anymore – that there were no real product differences still to be had, in fact; it was all about the brand now. Eighteen years later, the casual conference goer could be forgiven for thinking the pendulum has swung back the other way: the zeitgeist is all about makers, and the worship of the better product. In a world driven by engineers, we are told that utility and the algorithm, not the brand, are the future.
‘A diplomat who says ‘yes’ means ‘maybe,’ a diplomat who says ‘maybe’ means ‘no,' and a diplomat who says ‘no’ is no diplomat.’ Charles M de Talleyrand, French Diplomat at the time of Napoleon Some time in the late ‘90s, I was in Buenos Aires at one of those awkward international meetings where competitive Agencies share their work in front of their Clients and are obliged to make polite remarks about it. I found myself saying that the competitor’s ad was ‘very interesting.’ This prompted an angry response from my Argentine Client: ‘What is it with you British and the word ‘interesting’? I used to think it meant you were genuinely interested in what we were discussing. But now I understand it means nothing at all.’ Fair cop. I guess I had been trying to be a Creative Diplomat: neither encouraging, nor critical; neither flattering, nor rude.
2017 is my year of the idea. Having researched and written endlessly and passionately about decision making and meetings for the last six years, I am now going to be concentrating on the rocket fuel for both Smart Decision Making and the Mote Meeting System – powerful ideas. I am fascinated by how we come up with ideas, how we share them by thinking together, how we develop them, and how we use them to achieve the outcomes and successes that business continually challenges us to achieve. It’s a big subject! I am also fascinated by the other side of the coin – the times when we should have had a great idea, but didn’t. Also interested in the times we had the germ of a great idea, but didn’t succeed in selling it or exploiting it. That is why I have asked you the question in the headline. Can you think of occasions when your business or personal life might have been transformed if only you’d had a killer idea or successfully pitched it? What went wrong? Was it your fault – or someone else’s? Was there anything more – or different – that you could have done?
There is no escaping it. Surveying the marketing press over the past year it has become clear that everyone in the industry has resigned themselves to the fact. It’s Facebook’s world and we are simply living in it. Whether you’re messaging on WhatsApp, telling your photographic story on Instagram or still belligerently poking people on Facebook (Yes amazingly you can still do that – #throwback) the social landscape of 2 billion+ users is dominated by the big blue and white F from Silicon Valley. With Snapchat being copied and imitated at every turn and the stall and potential fall of big rival Twitter, one may look out at this Zuckerberg dominated social landscape and assume that the future of social media will be nothing but an interconnected Facebook vortex. One that everyone on the planet will eventually be sucked into. Especially if Facebook drones start achieving their lofty goal of providing internet access for all. Yet something is stirring in the East: something that appears to have been somewhat overlooked amongst all this Facebook euphoria. WeChat.