Great ideas have the power to change the course of history. Where they come from, we do not know. Nor can we claim to understand why they occur to some and not to others. However, what we can say is that having a great idea is not a just matter of luck, that simply having a great idea is not enough, and that if we act upon them accordingly great ideas have the power to drive transformational change.
Coming up with great ideas
Apples have fallen from trees ever since apple trees existed and surely a great number of apples must have fallen on many an unfortunate head. Yet, it was Newton who linked such a mundane event to larger questions about the workings of the universe, gained crucial insights and went on to change the course of history.
Coming up with a great idea requires knowledge, creativity and foresight. It demands a person or team’s ability to see linkages unseen to others, realise their idea’s relevance and foresee the potential of its applicability and the wider implications. These abilities enable us to distinguish mere ideas from great ideas and turn a hunch into conviction.
Bringing great ideas to life
Yet, to turn a great idea into reality requires a whole set of different capabilities. First and foremost, the actor needs to proceed confidently while being in a learning mode. Confidence rooted in a deep-seated conviction helps to be perseverant in the face of challenges, while being in a learning mode fosters communication, enables the actor to change course when necessary, turn haphazard action into a systematic process of trial and error, and it also serves to moderate emotions that can hinder progress.
Second, bringing a great idea to life requires courage and high-minded leadership. Not just the courage to face the unknown or face those who fear the unknown, but also the courage to bring others along with you. Life does not come about in a vacuum. It requires interaction, investment, partnerships and delegation. A great idea calls for great leadership, which far from dictating, means attracting, activating and inspiring.
Third, it requires consciousness, commitment and integrity. A great idea is only great because it serves a higher purpose, solves a pressing problem and has the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the affairs of a given entity or process. Driving value is first about delivering meaning and only then about turning a profit. Remaining conscious of the root purpose of the enterprise, staying committed to that purpose and being self-critical in light of that purpose is key to achieving long-term success.
Transformational changeWhat distinguishes great ideas from smart, good or interesting ideas is that they can engender transformational change. This type of change is not just about form, but substance. It is not about mere improvement of an existing system, or evolution, but transcending the system altogether in terms of a revolution.
Great ideas are not geared towards mere transitions or developments, but radical change which is transformational in the positive sense of the word. While they may not come to everyone, they can come to anyone. Even if we may not all share the exact same vision of where the journey will take us, true progress requires great minds from all quarters of society and all walks of life to pitch in and play their part.
This is not just the stuff of governments and civil society, but as we understand from John Wood’s Purpose Incorporated, also a task for companies and entrepreneurs. Contrary to Friedman’s theory which posits that a company’s sole raison d’être is to turn a profit, working for transformational change is not inimical to commercialism, but instead it’s key.
Raising a commercial enterprise on the foundations of a great idea is supplementing the four Ps of Marketing (Price, Product, Promotion and Place) with a fifth P for Purpose.
In the widest sense: bringing great ideas to life by way of a social initiative or business can mean introducing a new way of being, deploying a new technology or promoting a different way of thinking to serve a noble goal.
Whether this means working to devise a system to foster public trust, build communities, enhance communication, tackle food safety, promote animal welfare, advance gender relations, protect the environment, make people’s lives more efficient, render society safer, find a cure for disease, make information accessible or to promote the cause of economic justice, great ideas are great because they can make the world a better place.