Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Idea Hunter's Dictionary: I is for Ideas

Ideas can move the world!

They come in all sorts of packages, from the [slightly dated, but still much loved] iPod nano shown here to the traditional book, which serves as a "container for ideas." And, ideas certainly move markets! Whether it’s the tablet computers that are such a rage, smart phones &/or their “apps”, or social-networking, compression software [mp3] replacing CD players, e-books nudging real books aside, extreme skiing, rap music, the "cloud," boutique hotels, reality television, our interest in nutrition (organic/bio becoming increasingly preferred in food selection): You name it, they’re all about ideas; new ideas displacing old ideas. Someone gets a new idea, it catches-on, and the world is changed. Not as easy, of course, as that makes it sound; but, in truth, that’s the way it works.

For many societies, the search for good ideas has taken on a sense of urgency as standards of living have become so grand that they can no longer compete in making things, because the cost of their labor is too high. As result, once making things is out, “knowing things” becomes the next possible advantage to pursue, and that means finding and harvesting new ideas! Money is spent on R&D; new universities are established; celebrated thinkers get appointed to government panels; but, it’s all very improvised; and there are few lessons to learn, much less anyone trying to learn them.

What do we really know about where good ideas are? How to find them? What to do with them once we get them? Not much, it turns out! In fact, one of the most amazing things that I’ve learned over a career in executive education is that while no one will ever deny the importance of good ideas as a competitive advantage at both the corporate and individual levels, and while we all agree that we are plunging headfirst, and at warp speed, into a “knowledge-intensive” era, what that really means to me, to us, is something that tends to get lost in our excitement for this next new thing.

It’s not that we’re not interested; but I suspect that the questions are too intimate; too revealing; to be pursued with any sort of vigor. In fact, possibly we’ve never even thought about it at all!

Maybe now is the time to begin?

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