Great ideas can come from anywhere, my arse

There are many terrible cliches that lurk like sewer rats in the daily effluent of the advertising industry. And much like sewer rats they are always close to the surface, wholly unpleasant and bloody difficult to eradicate.

By far the most pernicious and destructive is the now widely held belief that ‘ideas can come from anywhere’. What this annoying little platitude means is that anyone engaged in a project whether client or agency and regardless of their discipline may be the person that cracks the big idea.

So far so good and of course like all cliches it did have a use at one time. By the 1990’s above the line advertising agencies had become so overwhelmingly and unjustifiably arrogant that they effectively acted as a block on any form of collaboration or innovation. Whether within those agencies, between agency and client or between the different disciplines that were beginning to partner the advertising agency to deliver integrated campaigns.
Against this approach there was real mileage for those in the market that refused to indulge prima dona behaviour, that had more fluid and collaborative working practices and who were far more open to partnering other agencies. As a sales trick, suggesting that an idea can come from anywhere worked a treat, and indeed some clients more interested in the process of making work than the quality of the end result, lapped it up.
The trouble is that while there may be some truth in this belief – theoretically great ideas can come from anywhere, just as theoretically a sufficient number of monkeys equipped with typewriters will create works of great literary merit – it is a disaster for clients and agencies alike.
Maybe the odd idea can come from anywhere but from whom are breathtaking strategic, creative and executional ideas more likely to come? Who is more likely to be the architect of a ground breaking piece of strategic thinking? Who is more likely to find a creative expression that dramatises it in a way that has never been experienced before. And who is more likely to create an executional approach that mesmerises people? It could be anyone involved in the project but my money is on those people that do this every hour of everyday of their professional lives, people that instinctively know when something is verging on greatness or just a pile of tat.
And what on earth is the future for any company in the ideas business that pays its people and its rent by creating ideas no one else can possibly come close to, if they believe that actually its a piece of piss and anyone can do it. After all you don’t find architects running around suggesting that anyone can design a building or even that any other architect can design a building as well as they can. An agency might as well pack up shop and go home if it doesn’t have enough self respect to think that, although anyone might come up with an idea, no one is likely to come close to the God like genius that they can rustle up.
Clients value great ideas, they pay us for great ideas and they stay with agencies that consistently author great ideas. Any agency worth its salt will ensure that, while there may be a scintilla of truth in this hoary old cliche, the greatest ideas only come from them.

Image courtesy of Markus Nielsen

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12 Replies to “Great ideas can come from anywhere, my arse”

  1. Ok so what you’re saying is “I agree that ideas CAN come from anywhere, but actually they’re more likely to come from people who have lots of good ideas”. Wow I bet they bank on you for ideas at your place…

  2. You’re right: ideas CAN come from anywhere. Isn’t this the whole premise of the transnational firm? The very local agency staff overseas hanging around eagerly in the shadow of the transnational firm in some farway land. In the hope that they both can work together to “crack” that stubborn overseas market. Of course, if you work in any business that is supposed to know what it’s doing, there should be systems in place to be able to actually do something with those ideas.

  3. Agreed you get fantastic ideas. But let me tell you one thing.Who makes you believe that you alone are the best. Come on, don’t brag that you are the best. Great ideas come to wrong people at the most funny moments. it all depends how one really wants to find some kind of solution to a given problem. where theres a will, there is a way. And you have to accept this fact of life.

  4. Similar to the problem with brainstorming — expertise and critical judgement are often undervalued. There’s obviously value in incorporating multiple perspectives, but ultimately creativity is not a democracy.

  5. I kinda buy this argument. It’s similar I guess to Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’- and in particular the role of ‘practise’. i.e. in this context, if it’s your JOB to search for insights, come up with amazing ideas and actively look for inspiration to solve a problem, surely you’re more likely to be able to solve it than someone who a) doesn’t know what the problem is and b) isn’t actively looking for inspiration- i.e. it’s not their job therefore the hours they spend devoted to the task are significantly less. Gladwell put the hours required to achieve ‘expertise’ in any given area as 10,000.
    Of course inspiration can ‘come from anywhere’ but the creative bit in my mind comes to connecting that inspiration back to solving the business problem for the client- that’s the idea bit.
    Things will start to get interesting when/if more clients begin ‘crowd surfing’… i.e. practically briefing in an online community to come up with tactical ideas for campaigns though the art of creative branding, I believe, will still be an area of expertise for a few.

  6. I guess it depends on what one means by a great idea. A brand would most probably define a great idea as one that is memorable and converts into cash. An agency might define a great idea as one that wins them lots of awards but doesn’t actually convert to money in the bank. Most great ideas fall into the latter category and very few fall into the former. Most of the creative I see every day is rehashed, rejigged rubbish that serves little purpose other than to keep some piss poor creatives in their Converse and Carhartt… and Paul Smith for dinners at Hakkasan. Really good ideas come from experienced people who understand the meaning of the bottom line.

  7. Agreed. As you say it had it’s purpose as a ‘sales tool’ but it’s now doing more harm than good.

  8. Good ideas can come from anywhere – it’s just how you recognize them and what you do with them that adds the value. The best ideas lie in insight about the customers – and so can come from customers themselves. The secretary can often give you the spark you need to realise what that extra added bit of magic is that transmits the idea and moves it from a god idea to a kiler execution. If you’re listening to her properly.

  9. nobody cracks a big idea. people nibble at a way in. in which case, bring on as many sewer rats as possible please.

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