Ideas are the stock in trade of our industry, the currency we measure ourselves against, the reason we get out of bed in the morning to do what we do, the service we deliver to our clients, the race we're all involved in.
The single-minded idea, the exciting idea, the surprising idea, the disruptive idea and not forgetting the grand-daddy of them all, the 'Big Idea'. We're obsessed by ideas, everyone has one, everyone wants to sell one, we're all looking for them. You would think that ideas are ten a penny today.
What we struggle with is how to recognise valuable ideas, and importantly for our industry how we get paid for developing those ideas in the first place. In order to do so we probably need to define what we mean by value.
It used to be that we valued originality above all else. This is borne out as we cry foul whenever we're confronted by anything that seems to lack absolute originality. We've all secretly sniggered in delight to hear that the masterpieces of the advertising industry such as Sony Balls or Honda Cog are mere rip-offs of some little-known artists YouTube clip from years back, or we've been too quick to admonish the latest rich-media gimmick because 'yeah, I had that idea years ago...'
But is originality really that important? I mean, when was the last time you came across a truly original idea, especially in advertising! We've put such stock in having ideas, yet our use of the term 'idea' for every aspect of what we do has in fact devalued the very idea of the 'idea' to such an extent that we've lost touch with what it means to have one in the first place.
Our agency models are built upon the premise that we sell original ideas, yet the reality is that we rarely benefit from the full value of those ideas, getting paid for representation and execution rather than the idea itself. That's not to say that the work we do day in day out lacks value, it's just that we need to be more honest about what we claim to deliver and recognise where our real value lies.
In our open-source world, it's much more common to give the thinking away for free and work out how to make money from it's consequences later. The best way to find out if you really have a valuable thought is to put it out there and see what happens. Being generous with your ideas will pay back ten times over.
In fact it's this process of striving towards an idea that is more important than the end result. The continuous process of creating, learning, tweaking and adapting - this is where the real value lies. The skill comes in knowing your execution from your elbow and recognising a real idea when you see one, more importantly understanding how to properly take advantage of it.
It's about playing the part of the curator, recognising what to leave in and what to leave out, to marshal a more continuous involved creative process forward. This is where agencies can provide real value as this is where the communication happens, the dialogue, the opportunity to engage.
Rather than lamenting the fact that we don't get paid enough for our ideas, we need to have a more honest appraisal of what we actually do as agencies to benefit our clients. The challenge is to work out how to realise the value of this process and ensure we properly benefit from the consequences of our involvement.
It's a scary prospect to let go of our fascination with 'Big Ideas' but we need to become more comfortable with the fact that real ideas are actually very rare beasts indeed.