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How can you tell if an idea is good?

December 2, 2009

In the world of advertising, it’s always been pretty easy to tell if a script has the potential to turn into a good TV, but even in this relatively straightforward space, there’s a lot of stuff beyond the script that might impact the outcome significantly.

A great case is the recent BBH work for Johnnie Walker which might have looked very flat when it was presented in script form, but when you overlay production and acting talent, it takes on a whole new dimension.

However, as we move beyond advertising into creating utilities and applications it becomes harder to tell if these ideas are going to work. While it certainly helps to understand unmet consumer needs, so you can develop something that might be useful, there are layers of nuance around experience that are hard to present and articulate. In this new world, it gets harder to see if it’s any good or not.

Once the idea is developed, we have an advantage because in the digital space is that we can fast track refinements and make it better fit user needs- you are seeing this constantly with iPhone applications, for example.

Presenting ideas has always been a challenge, but when they become layered with different levels and types of experiences and nuance, it’s simply getting too hard for people to guess if something is going to work.

Clive Thompson points this out in his recent piece in Wired on start-ups.

“It’s not that the truly revolutionary businesses aren’t already here
— we just don’t realize how game-changing they are. Remember: People
sniffed at Google because they thought AltaVista and Infoseek had
already “solved” search. Microsoft, too, was seen as a joke: Real men
built hardware, not software. And as for eBay — dude, who’s gonna buy
someone else’s cast-off Weebles? Twitter is the most recent idea that
seems “big,” but at first it was soundly mocked — until the State
Department asked CEO Evan Williams to keep the servers running during
the Iranian revolt.

Why is true tech innovation so hard to recognize? Because a
revolutionary new tool makes life permanently different, and we have
trouble imagining change.”

As planners, we all have a new responsibility to help our teams bring these ideas to life and to convince our clients that they are the right thing to do, but we need to acknowledge that this is tougher than it has ever been.

Here’s Steve Ballmer telling everyone in 2007 that he thinks the iPhone is a joke.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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