In the November issue of Fast Company you’ll find “Why, with so many businesses thinking small, the World Needs Big Ideas”. I love big ideas and, as a manager, often saw proof of the Goethe quote:
“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”
Big idea projects also raise fascinating challenges for entrepreneurs and business people.
First, a few examples of inspiring Big Ideas sited in the Fast Company article:
- Sage Bionetworks: Accelerate biomedical discoveries by creating a system for open sourcing biomedical research data — thereby giving researchers access to thousands of times more data than they could collect on their own.
- Waste Enterprisers: Turning human waste in to biofuel, solving huge widespread cost, environmental, time and dignity issues.
- Terrapower: Unlimited safe energy from depleted uranium.
The article makes this argument: Niche businesses (a new app or a better wireless thermometer) can succeed now more easily than ever because technology facilitates broad awareness and impact Why not use the same facilitating forces for more really big things? They discuss some requirements.
Two observations from my experience:
- Don’t get stuck in the middle – as a company or as an individual!
- Big companies’ focus is often too short-term to accommodate big ideas, which take time to build up. Or they start very big and the project collapses from lack of early and steady progress. Start using portfolio management to get the right balance. Communicate both the big objective and the urgent near-term deliverables to engage employees spirits while focusing their energy.
- If you are a Big Idea person, recognize that most people are not. Learn to communicate its big potential, but also the realistic and crisp near-term path forward.
- Balance focus on Big Problem/Opportunity vs. Big profit potential.
- Focus on big problems, not the dollar potential. HP once asked a colleague of mine to find new billion dollar opportunities for the company. Almost nothing seemed to meet that criterion. They exist, of course, but the approach stifled the process.
- Don’t fall for big opportunities that have no realistic profit potential. Example: We knew what people wanted in a “Personal Digital Assistant” a long time ago: Until the needed technologies enabled all that to fit in a device the size of a cell phone, the market was a graveyard of expensive failures.
- For more on big ideas see my post “Is Your Plan Bold Enough to be Safe?”
If you would like help assessing or adjusting your strategy’s small and large idea balance or to implement portfolio management, contact me.