With nearly 40 years of working around great creative thinkers, I have learned that great ideas don’t typically just pop into someone’s head; it is a process. That doesn’t mean inspiration is not part of the creative process, but it is only one element. Often, I am asked, how did you come up with that idea? It’s a process, not a gift.
When you start a business, you are generally full of great ideas that are at the core of your business foundation. Over time, as the business matures, new ideas seem harder to coax to the surface. Primarily, that’s because your business model is well established, and upsetting that foundation is hard and even scary. The only time most people are willing to entertain new creative thinking about their business is when it is in trouble. This is not necessarily the wrong time; but, if we could interject creative thinking into our business model, we could reduce (not eliminate) the chance of avoiding trouble.
One creative person I worked with had a very quick mind and could come up with a continual flow of ideas. These ideas were fueled by creative inspiration but not grounded in knowledge or understanding. I never wanted to stop that flow of ideas. You may have a similar person in your business who always has ideas, but you generally kick them out or turn off the input. Maybe it is that great idea you woke up thinking about. I would encourage you to not stop this input — just learn how to filter it. You should always be open to inspiration, but it is only one element of the process. I found that the best ideas don’t usually come first; they only come after you add the two other elements of the process — knowledge and understanding. You or your team’sknowledge,combined with you allowing your team to dig for a better understanding of the problem you are trying to solve, will help you form those great ideas.
For example, our company had a major client whose premium business was being dominated by a family-owned business. The issue became, how does a major brand compete, with substance, with a well-respected smaller brand. Our client had the commodity volume covered but was not competitive in the premium product category, Italian tomato sauces. Since we were dealing with a crop-based business, we were not trying to kill the family business, but expand the category with the capacity we could bring to the market. We knew that our client’s tomatoes were grown in the same premium county where their competitor grew their products (business knowledge) but that only offered us a “me too solution.” With a deeper understanding and industry research, we found that our client harvested more tomatoes in this premium county than their competitor. This led to the point of difference: with our client’s volume, they were able to select only the best of the crop to put into their premium sauces. To validate the quality of our client’s product, we had to humanize how they processed their products. We brought to life the growers who cared for the fields, the agronomists who watched over the crops and the method used to process the product — rebranding the product line to give a premium image. The end result was not only growth in our overall business, but an expansion of the category.
Dennis Marlin worked in the marketing and advertising business for nearly 40 years, both for clients and agencies. Thirty-one years ago, he founded The Marlin Network, which became the largest food service agency in the industry, and was honored by Inc. 5000 six years in a row as one of the fastest-growing companies in the country.