Chicago Ideas Week: How to Kill a Great Idea

Coming into Brad Keywell’s conversation at Chicago Ideas Week – the largest ideas festival in the world for a global network of thinkers ranging from Bill Clinton to Common – I assumed the talk would steer toward separating good ideas from bad. As an associate planner at the recently-crowned Global Creative Agency of the Year at the 2019 Holmes Report Global SABRE Awards, I took this as an opportunity to ensure my creative toolbox was ready to defend Ketchum’s new title. I imagined I’d gain further insights in to how to identify, hone and develop brilliant thoughts and mercilessly kill the bad in an effort to refine the creative process and build an environment set up for success. For better ideas. For being right!

business creativity

Much to my chagrin, I was completely wrong. Interestingly, the conversation had nothing to do with being right. It was the opposite. For an hour, Keywell challenged the room to focus on being wrong and the liberating power of embracing just how wrong we all are, all the time.

As it turns out, the best way to kill a “good” idea is to assume the idea is right in the first place. Here are a few takeaways that resonated with me, and might spark something for you…

Your ideas are wrong.
Statistically speaking, your ideas are probably wrong. And that’s okay! Everyone’s are. By accepting that, in an odd way, you should feel more encouraged to share your ideas. What do you have to lose?

There are no new ideas.
Your ideas are not yours. Ideas are like friends. They may look to you for guidance, care, tough-love but ultimately, they need to stand on their own. Another way to look at it is the old adage that there are no new ideas. Keywell quoted Mark Twain who said:

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

Your ideas do not define you.
Conversely, you are not your ideas. By detaching a sense of self-worth or ownership for your ideas you free yourself from the judgement or shame that comes with a “bad” idea. You can focus on what matters – the kernel of the idea – and testing it out in whatever form that may take. Our most valuable resource is time, why waste it worrying about what other people think?

Reflecting on these takeaways, it’s easy to see them as counterintuitive. Often, especially in an agency setting, we feel that we’re only as valuable as our last idea.

However, by embracing the notions that no idea is the right one, we don’t own our ideas, and that our ideas don’t define us, we can create the optimal environment to produce ideas that do work. That by removing ego, we can give our ideas the real estate needed to develop, grow and evolve into their best forms.

It’s certainly a different approach, but why not give it a try? At Ketchum, one of our core values is bravery, particularly when it comes to experimentation and innovation. Neither of those two things happen overnight. They do start with the choice to be brave though. Brave enough to share an idea, to change your approach, to put yourself out there, to see what works – to be wrong! You never know where an idea will lead, what it might spark for someone else on your team. Maybe every idea won’t win a Cannes, but if you commit to embracing an egoless “it takes a village” approach to delivering great ideas, who’s to say yours won’t.

So, got any questions (or great ideas)? Connect with me here to chat.