Yesterday's Big Idea

Thanks to the rise of the information age, you simply can’t hang on to a good idea for long.

A couple of weeks ago, K2 Design COO Robert Burke came up with a great idea. We talked about it in his office, at length, for at least a couple of hours. The idea was to put together a business plan for an online sports memorabilia marketplace. Sports trading cards, autographed memorabilia, photographs and other high-end sports memorabilia that could be bought and sold online at a web site maintained by K2, which would also hire additional personnel to authenticate merchandise, take care of shipping and control the buying and selling environment. It sounded like a great idea at the time.

That is, until the morning that Rob came in to work with a newspaper clipping. Seems like someone had exactly the same idea that he had. Only they had acted on it sooner, purchasing another corporate entity to take care of the responsibilities I outlined above. The whole plan was outlined in the newspaper article.

What’s the shelf life of a great idea? I can’t say for sure, but what I can tell you is that it’s getting shorter.

Two years ago, K2 was early to market with a terrific idea in the realm of interactive direct response. The concept was called “Vampire” and it referred to the notion of allowing for transactions or lead collection within a banner space. The banners themselves were Java-based and created from scratch by programmers at K2.

Before we even had the chance to put the Vampire concept to work for any of K2’s clients, technology companies had introduced improved technology that would make the creation of Vampire-type banners cheaper, easier to create and more trackable. Because K2 is a marketing agency and not a technology company, we adopted some of that new technology and used it successfully in Vampire-type DR campaigns. This all happened within a few short months.

Here in the interactive world, ideas are going from drawing board to execution in almost no time at all. That little sliver of time after which a marketing idea is conceived but before it is executed is becoming increasingly smaller.

What did I learn from these two occurrences at K2? I learned that you can’t sit on a good idea. Now, when there’s a concept rattling around in my head, I immediately commit it to paper and see what I can do about actually executing it – the next day.

To prevent me from sitting on good ideas, I like to play a trick on my own brain. The next time you come up with a big idea, pretend that you went out to a bar the night before with a friend who works for your top competition, got drunk, and blabbed the entire idea to him. I don’t know if it will work for you, but it does for me. Besides, odds are that someone probably has thought of your idea, or something close to it, and is working on a plan right now.

If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading some of the works of Alvin Toffler. One of the points he makes in his books is that change is coming, and it’s coming more rapidly than it has in the past. He calls the information age “The Third Wave.” (The first and second waves are the agricultural and industrial revolutions, respectively. God knows what the fourth wave might be.)

One thing I learned from Toffler is that as our tools become more powerful, our ideas take shape faster. And if our ideas are getting from the drawing board to the production line more quickly, then the advantage of being early to market is becoming less and less of a factor.

So the next time you come up with a big idea for an interactive profit machine, don’t sit around just thinking about it. Act on it.

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