I recently had an unthinkable moment.
I heard a friend of mine in the ad biz, who shall remain nameless, say the following: “There are no new ideas.” Hearing this, my brows immediately furrowed, my heart sunk, and my aura completely collapsed. When air finally returned to my lungs, I asked this person, a prominent creative person at a big-time ad agency in Boston, how on Earth he could possibly think that, let alone say it. He said that he felt that all new ideas were derivative of old ideas, and that, therefore, there really was never anything new.What a depressing thought. A thought that I’d heard before from others inside the ad biz and out. And a thought that I believe needs to be buried like a begrudged hatchet. Here’s why.
Combinations of old ideas are new ideas.
Everyone, when faced with any kind of problem – be it a marketing problem, societal problem, political problem, personal problem, any problem – starts to solve it in a world that has progressed to a certain point at that particular moment in time. All that is at that moment is all that our hero has to work with in solving the current problem. Could be that an existing idea will solve his or her problem. And, as it is human nature to find the path of least resistance, our hero will rightly start there. But if all that is isn’t enough, innovation must be mothered, even if that new idea is the combination of two heretofore existing, but unrelated, ideas.Let’s take an exaggerated example. Remember that show MacGuyver from the 1970’s? This guy was great. He could be locked up in a foreign prison with nothing but a paper clip and some soap, say, and make a bomb that would blast the prison doors wide open, once again guaranteeing another episode the following Thursday night. Clearly, MacGuyver was an avid follower of Polaroid founder, Edwin Land’s, who once wisely said, “Any problem can be solved using the materials in the room.”Now, was the paperclip a new idea? Nope. Was the soap anything new? Notta. Both of these were just existing ideas, or “materials in the room.” However, the combination of that soap and paper clip in order to make a bomb was an entirely new idea.
It’s time to change the vibe.
Maybe it’s just semantics. Maybe my creative director friend and I are really saying the same thing, but using different words. I dunno. But I do know that this world we’re living in right now is malnourished for ideas. I don’t just mean marketing ideas (though that’s true). I mean this world is in a giant intellectual rut on so many levels it’s scary. Look no further than our own impotent Congress. Even the New York Times is getting depressed about it (see “The Elusive Big Idea” article from this past weekend). But the negative vibe created by such articles pining for the old days of big ideas and statements like my friend’s, “There are no new ideas,” don’t help. In fact, they limit the human spirit at the exact moment we need the human spirit to push itself beyond its limit.With new ideas, even if they are a combination of old ideas, nothing is impossible. Nothing can’t be done. Nothing will get in our way.
But to get there, we gotta believe that nothing is unthinkable. And we gotta get others thinking that nothing is unthinkable, too. Only then will we get this human idea-engine revving again.And, yes, I’m sending one of those T-shirts in the picture above to my creative friend. Planning to change one vibe at a time.