The Rewards of a Great Idea

When you have a great idea you have something that has tremendous potential. Like an asteroid crashing into the ocean, it can cause monumental initial impact and can effect a tidal wave of repercussions for amazing distances for a very long time.

Someone had the idea of the wheel. That tidal wave is still cresting and causing impact today.

Of course, not all ideas are quite so magnificent or recognized as world-changing events. Take that simple little fastener device called the button. Who had that idea? I don't know, but that concept has surely had a great, long-lasting impact on almost everyone on this planet. I bet that if I counted the wheels and buttons in my life I would find that the button plays as important a role (keeping my pants up) as the wheel (getting me to the airport).

When you come up with a new idea, big or small, think about its potential long-term effect. In the thinking/doing equation covered in Chapter 18, "Mind Farming™," I talk about how most of what we do in the course of a day (in meetings, on the phone, at the computer, traveling, etc.) is in the service of executing an idea.

How good is that idea? Will it have a positive, lasting impact? Will it blast through the atmosphere and fizzle before splashdown? Will it change things affirmatively and irrevocably?

A great idea can make a company—Xerox, 3M, Volkswagen. It can make an industry—computers, automobiles, aerospace. It can

The birth of an idea:

In the grand scheme of things, that magical flash of brilliance doesn't take long. What? A second? Maybe two?

The time it takes to execute an idea:

Again, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't take a great deal of time to execute an idea, either. At least not that long compared to the ongoing life of an idea.

The ongoing life of a great idea (definitely indefinite):

This is a whole different story. There's the original idea in its fundamental form. Then there's the various permutations of the original idea during its early phases, often just minor modifications of the core idea. And then there are the subsequent generations of the idea that might look and feel quite different from the granddaddy, but would not be in existence without it.

make a career — Steve Jobs, Herb Kelleher, Sam Walton. Of course, some careers spawn companies and industries. (Or is it the other way around?)

Wow! All because of an idea? A computer that's easy to use. An airline that's inexpensive. A store that sells virtually the same things everyone else sells, but is defined by customer service.

Of course, not all great ideas live forever. Actually, a good many of them enjoy an even greater afterlife when they finally do die. An afterlife in the form of subsequent generations of ideas that would not have been born if not for the "genetic coding" of the original idea. For example, an idea like rockabilly is totally overshadowed by its offspring, rock 'n' roll.

There's also the afterlife where an idea lives on not because it is still viable, but because it is recognized as having made a big impact in its time — an idea like the great pyramids of Egypt. Although in some cases the idea is long since deceased, its spirit may live on and inspire others to come up with equally grand ideas totally unrelated to this now dead but revered concept.

Even the lasting ideas are not all huge, industry-breeding, direction-changing concepts. One idea that comes to mind from a project I was involved with early on in my marketing career is the universal orthotic insert we see in so many shoes these days. This idea emerged from the mind of a very creative podiatrist, Dr. Rob Roy McGregor, who designed the first running shoe developed under the Etonic brand during the 1970s running boom. Initially called the "single-unit heel and arch support," this device adapted the concept of the orthotic, an individually prescribed rigid device worn in shoes to correct pronation and foster proper heel plant, and turned it into a universal performance mechanism that is in virtually all quality athletic footwear today, as well as in many nonathletic shoes. A big idea that changed things, possibly forever, if only in a narrow, underappreciated area, Dr. McGregor's concept proved to be immortal.

Even if immortality is not your goal, you must be mindful that an idea has a life and an afterlife. A great idea can continue to deliver value for years beyond its initial inception. Whether or not you personally reap all of the rewards of this idea, you must know that you have created a living thing that will have an impact, help others, maybe generate income and livelihoods for generations to come. That is a great reward. And a great responsibility. Which leads us to the other side of this coin, which isn't always as bright and shiny.

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