How to Save an Idea

Jan 24, 2019

By Paul. Kurnit and Steve Lance

It took nearly two years and many, many people to come up with the tag line “Explore Your World” for the Discovery Channel. The irony is that it was there sooner than anyone thought—they just didn’t see it.

Through a series of focus groups, marketing exploratories, brainstorming sessions, and testing, it was clear that Discovery viewers were more than just couch potatoes. They felt actively engaged in the experience. At first, many of the lines (“Get This Close”) were about Discovery, but gradually they moved more and more toward the promise of the audience experience.

When the line “Explore Your World” appeared in a focus group session, everyone knew it the minute they heard it; but when we went back and checked our notes, we found that the line had been offered up twice before—as long as a year before the line was “discovered.” The problem was that it was buried in a batch of other lines. It hadn’t been given the proper space to live, breathe, and come to life.

As you move forward with your strategic development, you’ve got to start making choices. Rather than just dismissing ideas out of hand, now’s the time to start delving more deeply into everything you’ve already got.

Another Day, Another Process
Don’t try to come up with a breakthrough idea in a single, two-hour meeting or a half-day session. After you’ve conceived a number of ideas, take some time and let them all percolate, brew, simmer, and age. Don’t be in a rush to get it all solved in a single afternoon. Ideas are precious. Circulate the list of ideas among your development team and let them all think about the list for at least a week, maybe more. Then when you’re ready to meet again, review every idea—good and bad.

The place to start is with a sharpener, not pruning shears. Bring the team together and see how the ideas have “worn.” Which ideas do people have continuing energy and enthusiasm for? How many variations of the ideas can you find in the ideas you’ve come up with? Look over the entire list. And, working together as a team or in groups, develop variations, alternatives, and any new ideas to what should already be a rather robust list.

Let’s say someone had the idea of “micro stores” in your session. Great! But take it a step further. What about pop-up stores? Mall kiosks? Or the elaborate, Japanese-style vending machines that we’ve seen at airports, from which you can buy anything Best Buy sells that a traveler could need. Every idea you’ve got on your list can probably spark four or five variations, additions, or refinements.

Do this elaboration of ideas while the enthusiasm is still there—and if you can’t find a variation for an idea, don’t discard the idea. Give yourself some time to mull it over and see if it could be a winner all by itself.

Coffee purists like their coffee straight: that is, with or without milk or sugar—but not flavored! Yet, research indicated that people were interested in flavored coffees. Conventional wisdom indicated that one of the major coffee brands might come out with a line of flavored coffees. Nestlé, already a big player in global coffee, took another tack. Today, Coffee-mate comes in numerous forms and flavors. It’s not coffee at all, but it’s the perfect additive for the noncoffee drinker who likes coffee with that flavorful confectionery taste.

Or, consider the growth of Google. They did one thing extraordinarily well: search. (Or, as Paul likes to say, find.) Great start. But then they took all the expertise they had in-house and began to ask themselves a different set of questions. Not, “How can we do search better?” but, “What can we offer consumers if the world truly is moving to mobile-platform computing?” The result is an extraordinary array of features and services—and now they’ve taken on the 500-pound gorilla directly by launching their own Web-oriented operating system. Sure, that may not have been in their original business plan, but that’s the hallmark of a company that thinks big.

But back to work. Yeah, we mean you.

Take a look at your list and find the ideas that are the most out of the box. Then, instead of crossing them off, ask yourself whether your customers will give you brand permission to do them.

Time and again, for the first 20 years of its existence, pundits would write about the impending death of Apple Computer. However, the Apple people never felt constrained in being an exclusively computer company. They are a consumer-centric technology innovation company. So Apple completely revolutionized the music business when they saw an industry in disarray—and an opportunity to create iTunes and iPods. Then Apple completely revolutionized the smart-phone business by introducing not only the iPhone but also the whole idea of applications (apps). Along the way, they changed the company name from Apple Computer to Apple Inc. What will they innovate next? No one knows—because consumers give Apple enormous brand permission to venture into areas other computer companies wouldn’t tread.

So don’t be in a rush to eliminate anything from your list. Continue to be adventuresome and risky and keep looking at all your potential ideas from as many angles as you can. Yes, you’ve got a time frame to get the job done, but it’s better to have a Big Idea at the start than to rush to market with a “pretty good” or “so-so” idea. Give all ideas the benefit of time and perspective. Be diligent, vigilant, and creative. Take your time. Do it right.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Breakthrough! A 7-Step System For Developing Unexpected and Profitable Ideas by Paul Kurnit and Steve Lance. Copyright, 2011, Paul Kurnit and Steve Lance.

About the Author(s)

Paul. Kurnit and Steve Lance are coauthors of  Breakthrough! A 7-Step System for Developing Unexpected and Profitable Ideas. Kurnit is a well-known marketing expert and marketing professor at Pace University whose achievements at agencies such as Benton and Bowles, Ogilvy and DDB's Griffin Bacal include campaigns for Crest, American Express, and Transformers. Lance is a thirty-year veteran of advertising and marketing and an award-winning copywriter and creative director. He is coauthor of The Little Blue Book of Advertising. Together, they also wrote The Little Blue Book of Marketing.