500,000,000 sperm can’t be wrong.

Six Tips to Help Develop and Sell Your Best Ideas

At one point in your life, many years ago– approximately nine months before you were born, in fact– you competed in your very first new-business pitch. You were competing against a few hundred million others, but apparently you won, because you’re reading this today.

The principles of fertilization offer a handy reminder that in chaotic or competitive situations, many must die in order for one to live. So it goes for spawning ideas.

It wasn’t always this way. I remember watching a famous, award-winning creative director describe his philosophy on idea development. His agency would present only one idea — the big idea — and if the client didn’t buy it, the agency would go into hiding for two weeks before returning with another (single) idea.

That agency has, regrettably, since closed… surprise surprise. In the hope of avoiding the same fate, I’ve spent the past few years trying to get the idea of THE idea out of my head.

As time goes on, I realize that successful careers, like successful agencies, are built upon the rules we learned back when we were swimming upstream with a few hundred million of our would-be siblings:

1. There is no such thing as THE idea.

If you can break out of the mind-set that you have to create that one almighty concept, you can stay more open to client feedback, integrate other media platforms and forage outside of your comfort zone for creative thinking.

2. Beware your ‘brilliant’ ideas.

Truly brilliant ideas are dangerous. They can quickly become the idea. They let people off the hook to beat those ideas with something fresher, smarter. Instead of clinging to your most brilliant idea, keep yourself open to the possibility that there’s a better one.

3. Spread your bets around.

Think like the movie-studio executives, who have stopped putting all their bets on one or two blockbusters, and instead back a multitude of movies that are all little bets. Many will fail, a few will break even and one or two will become massive hits.

4. Start profusely and finish brutally.

At the beginning of a process, stay open to everyone’s comments and all possibilities. But as time goes on, focus on your winning ideas and kill the rest without sorrow or sentiment. Why? See rule No. 5.

5. Ideas are not precious; opportunities, very much so.

There is no limit to the number of ideas you could potentially generate, but there is a definite limit to the number of opportunities you can take on and succeed with. Focus your resources on winning ideas.

6. Fight to the death for your ideas.

This might sound counterintuitive to the above. Here’s the difference.

Ideas are our raison d’etre. Yet once you’re willing to create more of those ideas — and watch more of those ideas die — your career will survive and thrive.

This article was published in Ad Age May 12, 2008 (and amended with a wussy title): Sacrifice Many for the Sake of One Brilliant Idea – Advertising Age – Hogshead On Six Tips to Help Develop the Right One

8 Responses to “500,000,000 sperm can’t be wrong.”

  1. The Dan Ward Says:

    It’s always a fun day when Sally posts a new entry – and this one was particularly fun!

    I’ve been fighting against the notion of delivering a single product/idea/pitch in a Big Bang single event, instead preferring a series of rapidly iterated fly-offs between competing prototypes. Your six ideas fit right in and are really helpful!

    “Ideas are not precious” – love that!

  2. Jon Pietz Says:

    Tom Monahan used to call this process “killing your babies”. That phrase sticks in my head every time I find myself getting too attached to any one idea.

    Tom wrote a great book about generating ideas called The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy.

  3. Sally Hogshead Says:

    Yes… kill your babies. I heard Tom speak a few years ago and I can see him saying that.

    (Me, when it comes to advertising and my own children, I only sold my firstborn.)

  4. Jon Pietz Says:

    Yeh, I tried to do that a few times, but my wife wouldn’t allow it.

  5. Sally Hogshead Says:

    How do you think I sold Radical Careering to a publisher??

    Note: The secondborn is a bit whiny this morning and therefore I am entertaining offers from interested parties.

  6. Jon Pietz Says:

    Well, now it’s too late for me. My firstborn is out selling himself. Anybody in the market for a right arm?

  7. Marta Tracy Says:

    As an idea generator for TV and media companies, I found your suggestion to be absolutely
    refreshing and validating. The more ideas the merrier. That’s my motto! Great ideas will surface to the top and it does not take a rocket scientist to spot them. Many networks and media companies are on a quest to find the one hit show or idea that would put them on the map. By focusing so narrowly, they miss the point.

  8. Sally Hogshead: Radical Careerist | Aquent Blog Says:

    [...] second post I’ll point you to concerns the tyranny of THE idea. It’s a plea for openness, plurality, and flexibility when it comes to generating and [...]

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