The Great Idea That Isn’t


Larry’s business was in trouble.

The market he served was in trouble.

The public infrastructure he supplied was in trouble. It was literally crumbling. And as a result, everyone was simply reacting to emergencies instead of thinking ahead and adding real value.

For Larry, it was a death spiral of commoditization, drowning in a red ocean where everyone was the same. Competing on price and discounts and payment plans.

Now what?

So Larry brought in some experts to help him find a way out. To help him find a place where his organization could add value.

They talked to Larry’s employees and customers. They even talked to his customer’s customers. They talked to industry thought leaders and people tangentially involved in the decision process.

And lo and behold, together they found a beautifully blue ocean. By applying some new technology they could create a new category where Larry’s organization could become the leader.


They found the idea that would change what Larry did from just making money to also making a difference for his market, for the public infrastructure and for people in general.

Then it happened.

Absolutely nothing.

Don’t want to burst your bubble, but…

Having an innovative, transformative idea is not a good idea when you do nothing with it.

Or when you don’t know what to do with it.

And the sad thing is that it happens all the time to purpose-driven organizations and brands.

Look! Another invisible innovative idea

As a result, that big strategic, transformative brainstorm turns to dust. Usually in some very observable ways:

    • Larger organizations use their bigger budgets and marketing clout to simply steal the idea while the inventor struggles to get their act together. This is a common strategy of market leaders
    • The slow leak of the idea gives one competitor after another an opportunity to take a piece of it for themselves. This is akin to being nibbled to death by ducks.
    • Competitors move more quickly with a stronger, more compelling voice garnering more recognition so the inventor looks like the imitator.
    • Trying to narrowly spread the idea through messages rather than tribe experiences and stories eliminates all the credit, brand associations and thought leadership that naturally accrue to known idea originators.

As a result of any of these miscalculations or exercises in organizational ego, the idea ends up having little benefit to its inventor in the long-term.

Look! Another creator pulls the wool over his own eyes

So if you have a big idea and you don’t have the resources, discipline, fortitude or guts to do anything with it, do yourself and all the rest of us a favor.

Don’t add to the noise.

I know, it’s hard to conceive of your big idea, your revolutionary new way of doing things, your disruptive innovation, being relegated to mere noise in the marketplace. A mere blip on the electrocardiogram of social life.

But shift happens. And the dung heap of potentially transformative but unrealized ideas grows higher each day.

Look! Another big opportunity that isn’t there

Innovations are dying out there in the marketplace of ideas faster than Kathy Griffin at an evangelical revival meeting.

Ironically, more often than not, it’s not because they’re bad ideas.

It’s because their introduction to the world is poorly conceived in one way or another.

  • You think you can introduce a revolutionary concept in a conventional way.
  • You have no resources to invest in your idea.
  • You have resources but they are not sophisticated enough to execute the idea with the impact it needs and deserves to get it noticed.
  • You think small and short-term (as in the dreaded “limited soft launch”) instead of having an audacious vision and a plan to get there over time.
  • You take a myopic, inward-looking approach to the world.
  • You don’t know who your tribe is.
  • You think you can communicate your idea by focusing on ways of delivering messages rather than a planned program that integrates your tribe’s worldview, helping experiences and compelling stories that they will share.
  • You are not disciplined enough to have a plan for introducing and executing your idea immediately and in the future.
  • You think in terms of mass and social media, not tribes, so you can never get specific enough with people to make them feel something
  • You don’t have the intestinal fortitude and courage of your idea convictions.

So if you plan to make your dent in the universe by following any of those misguided paths, don’t kid yourself.


Like Lindsay Lohan, there are just too many good ideas turning bad out there. Don’t add to the sadness.

But on the other hand

If you have the guts and the discipline and the fortitude to truly change things, here are seven areas of alignment that will help your innovation survive inside your organization and out in the cold cruel world.

1. Innovative ideas are on-purpose

Because purpose is all about changing the world for the better, it needs to be at the apex of the organization’s decision tree.

It needs to give everyone the same view and understanding of why they are doing what they are doing.

The key to doing this well is making sure your organization’s strategy reports to your purpose. Not the other way round. And even more importantly, to make that purpose the focus of the differentiation and change that the idea is focused on.

As Larry discovered, if your organization has no purpose beyond making money, an idea that goes beyond that will be very difficult to sell internally.

One solution is to abandon your idea. The other is to find, define and culturalize your organization’s purpose and align your innovations with its cause.

2. Innovative ideas focus on their tribe

The key question behind every compelling idea is, who is this for?

Is it for people who are interested, or those just driving by? For the informed, intelligent, educated part of the world? For those with an urgent need? Is it designed to please the lowest common denominator?

If your idea is trying to delight the people who are about to buy from a competitor because he’s cheaper than you, what compromises will you need to make? Are they worth it?

If your idea is trying to delight a group of people with a passion for a cause, how committed are you to being different and extraordinary to just them? Are they worth ignoring the petty demands of the rest of the world?

3. Innovative ideas serve tribe members

Members of a tribe share a common worldview.

They see the world working in a certain way. And they seek to change it from what they believe is wrong to what’s right.

The change they seek forms a unifying purpose that brings them together and affects their view of the world.

Successful ideas have empathy with the tribe’s worldview and address the change they wish to see in their world.

4. Innovative ideas contain a compelling story

Imbedded within the idea is the story of making things better for the tribe. Eventually, that story becomes the idea in people’s minds.

It is a story of distinction. Of changing things for the better. Of overcoming the status quo. Of helping.

It is the story that will define and propel the idea, but only if it is a story – not an idea – worth sharing.

5. Innovative ideas drive movements

They change things.

But they don’t change anything without a tribe that is committed to them as a tool that helps them change what they believe needs to be changed to make a difference to their world.

The tribe uses the idea to support their cause and drive a movement. In other words, innovative ideas need to be able to connect people. To focus their actions around sharing the idea and making it real.

Leaders connect tribe members by helping them do things for the cause that the tribe wants or can’t do for themselves. They do that by developing ideas that help. Not by saying things.

6. Innovative ideas need to be made real

In the beginning, ideas are usually abstract. But they can’t stay that way for long. To survive, they eventually need to be made real.

With the help of an apple and a story and a name, Isaac Newton made gravity more than an obtuse idea.

And by making gravity real, he gave us power over the concept. The power to imagine, relate, describe, discuss and accept.

Ideas overturn conventions, create new understanding, change people and disrupt the status quo only if you make them real.

7. Innovative ideas are demonstrated by tribe experiences not messages

Through their connecting power, leaders inspire and empower movements by creating experiences that make the idea real. And by making it easy for members of the tribe to tell stories about their experiences. Not through marketing campaigns.

They understand that the things needed to create a movement (purpose, worldview, tribe, connection, helping, leadership) are bound together by the tribe’s experiences and stories. Not by marketing campaigns.

Only brave ideas

There are no truly innovative, easy ideas.

If you believe and have the ability to see things from your tribe’s point of view you will develop ideas.

But having an idea is only the start.

The key thing is to have the courage and tenacity to nurture and align them with these seven principles until they can stand on their own in the world. Principles that innovative ideas like yours and visionary people like you can use to carve out a unique place in your tribe’s hearts and minds. And create a movement for good in the world.

That’s how truly great ideas live.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s your take?


Thanks for the art, Dan Block