Foreplay, Conception and Idea Management

by Sumit Roy [see Sumit’s profile here]

Unfortunately, there's been more written about Idea Generation Techniques than Idea Management Techniques.

If you are looking for Idea Generation Techniques you can access the work of Edward de Bono, Roger von Oech, Dr. Jean Houston, Tony Buzan....the list of celebrity writers in this field is quite long.

But if you wanted Idea Management Techniques, who do you turn to?

There are a few, but they are not very well known.

And because there's so little known about Idea Management that most ideas are stillborn. Not only do they not survive to see the light of day, they don't mature enough to breed new ideas.

And that's a shame.

Without an Idea Management plan, you can't get there.


Let me quickly differentiate between Idea Generation and Idea Management.

Idea Generation Techniques show you fun ways that you can conceive an idea at will. Idea Management deals with not only conceiving the idea but rearing it into adulthood.

I guess because Idea Generation can be such a lot of fun, that's what most people prefer to do, with no real intention of having to raise the idea to full maturity.

People like the orgasm that comes with Idea Generation techniques.

It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on. You can have group orgies and the organization will even give you credit for having generated so many ideas.

But to raise that child takes a whole village. Not just the people who conceived the idea.

Even for the people who conceived the idea, there's a lot of dirty diapers to take care of.

If things can go wrong, it will.

Takes the fun out of life, doesn't it?

And so most Idea Generation sessions have a built in contraception device. Because Idea Generation is fun. Idea Management means quite a lot of work.

As long as the world is applauding you for the number of ideas you can generate, why bother to learn about Idea Management? 

So here's a tip for those who want their ideas to see the light of day. Don't start without a SMART objective. Usually, it can be expressed within a tweet.

In the almost 40 years that I have been dealing with Idea Management, I can make out from the nature of the briefs I am given whether the organization is serious about the idea that they are looking for. Or whether they want a welcome distraction from the mundane work processes necessary to keep the revenue flowing.

If their brief includes a SMART objective, I know they are serious.

If the discussion quickly moves to where the workshop will be conducted ...'away' sessions are a favourite... I know I have to plan an idea orgy....lots of mental masturbation... lot's of 'never-tried-this-before' highs....because no one is seriously looking for an idea that might disrupt their current lives.

They are looking for stress relief. Yes, orgasms do that nicely. 

Idea Management starts with a SMART brief.

·      SMART briefs are based on the business the brand is really in. (Not the product category, but on the emotional need the brand has chosen to satisfy.) If the idea works, it will make the brand even more Sustainable.

That's the S in my version of SMART. Sustainable for the brand. Sustainable for the world. The brief addresses a sustainability problem that the brand is facing/ will face.

·        SMART briefs are always Measurable. If you don't know how you will measure the impact of the idea, you won't know how to choose from the scores of ideas any decent idea generation technique will generate.

Which ones should you develop into 'alpha' and 'beta' testing?

In fact, if you don't know what the the new idea must contribute to your brand, you are very likely to choose the 'cool' idea instead of the 'smart' idea.

('Smart' ideas can also be very 'cool'. But all 'cool' ideas aren't always 'smart'.)

•        SMART briefs specify the Allowable Cost to get to that chosen destination. A measurable goal is not enough. It might sound counter-intuitive but the more tightly defined the brief, the greater the chances of finding an idea that will live to see the light of day.

What's the allowable cost to get to that destination? This is probably the toughest part of the brief. You don't have to spend the entire budget. The better idea gets the brand to the destination at less than the allowable cost.

What most people forget to do is cost the time they will need to get to the destination.

Sometimes I wonder whether people know that Time is Money.

•        SMART briefs are Reviewable. It's true that this does not have to be stated at the start of the Idea Management process.

It can be part of the Route Map that the Idea Management Team will work out. And that's easy to do if the S, M, A and T are in place.

•        Finally, a SMART Idea Management objective is Timebound.

Finding the right balance, the deadline within which the idea must reach maturity, can be crucially important in the management of any brand.

Without it, you can't really plan the 'alpha', 'beta' and 'theta' stages so essential in thorough Idea Management Programs. 

Idea Management and Time Management go hand in hand.

It sounds obvious. But it is so often ignored.

"However long it takes" is a lousy brief. Just remember, time is always money. Even if you have too many people in your organization doing nothing.

Possibly one of the best Idea Management Programs I have designed was for Lintas. Actioning Quality on Time was an organization wide concept that helped Lintas reach its stated SMART objective: to match the capitalized billing of what was then known as HTA (JWT) but "with half the number of people, by 1990".

Alyque Padamsee declared war against the "follow up industry", identified as the biggest time waster. AQT diaries, designed along with Neville DSouza and Josy Paul, changed the work culture of the agency. People took pride in actioning quality on time.

Internal meetings were soon not just beginning on time, but ending on time. No one was kept waiting indefinitely for an internal approval.

Productivity shot up. Mostly as a result of a customized planner, a little like this one below, that suddenly everyone at Lintas India (and the clients) wanted to use.

I knew that the AQT diaries were a success when I saw "creatives" carrying them around proudly.

I knew why they did. Suddenly they had time to think during work hours and had a good excuse to deny time-wasting meetings that had no agenda. (It also provided them with a space to note expenses like taxi fares incurred, something they traditionally forgot to charge to the agency.)

AQT wasn't the only idea that helped Lintas get to it's 50th year objective. There were several other ideas that contributed.

But it does illustrate how intrinsically linked Time Management is with Idea Management.

If you want to become a good Idea Manager, try becoming a Stage Manager first.

More than reading about it, I discovered that I actually learnt more about Idea Management from being a Stage Manager.

Stage Managers rarely get the spotlight. But they are the ones who meticulously plan how the actor is going to create those magical moments of connection with the audience. The lights, the sound, the sets, the props, the costume changes must all be immaculately timed in a way that the audience should never notice.

A Stage Manager lives by his checklists. He works out everything that needs to happen before opening night. When must the sets be ready? When must costumes be tried? Who must attend which rehearsal? When must the final sound track be ready?

In fact, till you know when what must be ready, you can't really cost a production. And the real creativity starts when the Stage Manager (read Idea Manager) needs to find ways to compensate budget over runs and yet not hurt the integrity of the play.

Much later in life, I learnt that the common sense techniques I was using to make sure that the plays I was producing were successful, had a fancy name.

PERT charts. "Program Evaluation Review Techniques" sound a lot more impressive than the term I'd coined for it. Timestones.

Timestones are at the heart of the common sense Idea Management Technique I use to coach those who want to learn to ride the Idea Management Motorcycle. It not only records how far you are from your destination, it gives you the time and resources you have to get there, as part of the route map.

It's when you know that you are behind schedule, or you know that you've used up more resources than you have budgeted for, that you get the most creative.

Yes, it's those crisis management techniques that take more creativity than the foreplay and the conception.

And, as every parent knows, it's more rewarding than the act of conception.

It's what you do at the crossroads that decide whether your idea will reach maturity.

Most Idea Generation Techniques don't even get to that evolved phase of creativity.

All good Idea Management Techniques do.

Here's just one example of the many Idea Management Systems you can use to get to your SMART Objective. This one is from Techno PM.

Have you worked out your Idea Management System?

Don't you need one?