Business Brief asks presidents and CEO’s of companies at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (VTCRC) one question… “What key lesson have you learned in business that would help others?” Please enjoy Eileen Baumann, President of Uncork-It’s, thoughts…
HOW TO INVEST IN IDEAS
My advice to anybody in business is to treat ideas like high-value assets. Invest in them. Protect them. Grow them.
As a marketing and advertising firm, you could say Uncork-it is in the business of ideas. We help people who are changing the world tell their stories. To be successful, we need story ideas, visual ideas, strategy ideas, implementation ideas, and even ideas on how to get agreement about our ideas.
We have the happy advantage of working with multiple clients and seeing inside many different firms. Based on our experience over the years, we have identified five features of ideas that successful companies recognize.
Ideas are often born as a whisper.
A company that values ideas gives every team member the power to listen for that whisper and give it a voice. Sometimes that whisper comes from a soft-spoken colleague or is buried in an off-hand remark. Credit goes to the originator and to those who recognize its worth.
Ideas can come from anywhere or anybody at any time.
However, to be successful, they need to be owned by the whole team. When ideas are contributed and evaluated on their own merit, they have the best chance of yielding results. Most of us have probably experienced the frustration of having a great idea be rejected by management until it was voiced by an expensive outside consultant. [Note to business leaders: avoid being THAT boss.] We’ve also all worked with people who would not support any ideas that were not their own. Both situations convince the team that proposing ideas is not worth the effort, and the company ultimately suffers. At Uncork-it, we work hard to uncover and recognize good ideas – especially when they come from our clients’ teams. Sometimes that means our role becomes helping them recognize their own good ideas and bring them to fruition.
Ideas don’t enter the world fully formed.
They need to be captured and shaped before they can be productive. We talk about playing with ideas, extending them, turning them upside down and exploring them from multiple perspectives. By doing this, we often find that what was first an off-base idea has become the best option. Ideas are easily punctured – especially when we judge an idea before it has been explored. Pictured: Explore ideas from every angle. Some ideas may have a shelf life or expiration date. While some ideas may be a perfect fit at a particular time in certain circumstances, it’s possible that same idea can be reworked at another time in another situation and find success. Fashion (think capri pants and bell bottoms) is a good example.
Ideas tend to grow best in diverse environments.
This is easily seen as technological advances develop at the intersections of different fields. Ideas, it seems, thrive in cross-fertilization. How can firms harness that feature? One way is to ensure that when discussing or developing ideas, you form a group from different disciplines or areas of the company. It helps to have people who know the situation thoroughly, but also people who do not. When we have a particularly knotty creative problem at Uncork-it, for example, we call in our software team for a different perspective. Pictured: Grow ideas through cross-fertilization!
One great idea does not devalue another.
We encounter this in creative concepts, but also in strategy. In marketing today, there are so many different strategies and tactics that work. I learned this lesson the hard way a number of years ago. I was working with some clients with a limited budget. Every time we needed to escalate our marketing efforts to gain more customers, we chose to boost what is now called content marketing – because it kept working. We increased the number of stories placed in the press and our whitepapers and seminars. We stopped considering broader campaign advertising. We gained customers, and the company grew. However, without the support of advertising, the company didn’t build its brand as strongly as it could have and wasn’t able to maintain higher prices. Charging higher prices, even with the increased costs of marketing, would have yielded a better return. Idea blinders help you progress along a clear path, but you can miss other opportunities that might have higher payback.
Go capture that idea that just flew past, and take a moment to examine it. Is it valuable? Can it help you grow the business or do your job better? Should you talk about it with your colleagues? Invest in a strong portfolio of ideas for every part of the business. When the time comes, you can choose the best of them.
It’s the key to great strategies.
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