An Epidemic of Unrealized Creative Ideas

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As consultants, my fellow creative thinking coaches and I work in all kinds of companies, in a wide variety of industries, under all kinds of conditions.

One thing that's common to all companies is that the quality of the ideas that come out of the other end of the machine, on average, is never as good as the quality of the ideas the people actually conceive.

We often call this the creative sell success rate. In many ways, it is to people in business what batting average is to baseball players, what box office receipts are to the movie industry.

I believe that an idea is not great if it doesn't ultimately see the light of day. That, to me, is like hitting a home run in batting practice. It doesn't count for anything. The real superstars in baseball are the players who do it in prime time, just as the real winners in any other industry are the people who have new ideas that actually become reality.

The One Club for Copy and Art, one of the largest (if not the largest) organizations of advertising creatives in the world, has an event called "The night of the living dead." At this event they honor great ads that never ran. With all due respect to the One Club, which as a former board member I'm very supportive of, I'm sorry, but if an ad never ran, it simply can't be a great ad. To glorify these failures to sell "great" ideas is to encourage laziness (or at least not to encourage the selling of great ideas). The proof? The so-called winners of these awards are not the real shakers and movers in the ad business.

You have to perform in the real world, my friends, if you want to succeed at anything. All unqualified, uncompromised success? Well, no, not totally. I may be an idealist, but I'm not a raving idealist. I will admit that there are inevitably some concessions in the process of bringing almost any idea to maturity. And I suppose I should never expect any company to have absolutely all of its ideas slip totally unscathed through the obstacle course of reality. But I can tell you from my extensive experience in this area that the most highly realized individuals and organizations, from a creativity standpoint, don't do it solely with brute creative strength, forcing their ideas upon others; they also know how to sell their ideas. To use a phrase I much prefer, "They know how to get others to embrace their ideas."

Staying on the topic of advertising for a moment, a number of years ago I did an informal analysis of what accounts for exemplary creative achievement in advertising. I did a general but fairly far-reaching ad-industry-wide Creative ForceField Analysis (see page 251). What I discovered is that the agencies and companies doing the most creative work don't necessarily have a corner on the best creative people, copywriters, and art directors. As it was, their people mostly came and went, but didn't always perform as well elsewhere. However, those companies did overachieve in the area of selling their best work. To put an exclamation mark on that point, the then-reigning ad agency of the year, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, hired away two people from my ad agency, an agency that many people considered "creatively driven." But they weren't creative people per se who were cherry-picked from my staff—they were account people who could sell great work.

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