See if this sounds familiar: marketing thought leader X publishes a new paper with a grand Big Idea, complete with fancy infographic and a chart or framework that is both dazzlingly complex and slightly intimidating. Whether you like said thought leader or not, you wonder whether their Big Idea is actually worth pursuing, or whether it’s just a bunch of hot air, and pursuing it would be a waste of time and resources.
I’ve been in that situation plenty of times over the years. I’ve seen lots of Big Ideas, lots of fancy frameworks, lots of infographics whose design budget probably eclipsed some peoples’ annual income. To figure out what’s the real deal and what’s BS, I borrowed an idea from the martial arts.
In the martial arts tradition I practice, we have lots of Big Ideas called kata. Loosely translated from Japanese, the word means form or routine, in the sense of something you practice. Each one is a Big Idea, how to win in a certain way under a specific set of adverse circumstances.
My teacher, Mark Davis of the Boston Martial Arts Center, taught us that to learn and master a kata, you have to break it apart and study each of the pieces. How does a wrist lock in the middle of Batsu Gi kata work outside of those particular circumstances? Can you make it work versus a punch? A knife? You operationalize each piece of the kata until you know how it works; when you put it back together, you truly understand it.
This methodology, which has served me well for over two decades, is one you can use for evaluating any thought leader’s Big Idea. If you read about some new framework or concept, see if you can break it apart into operational pieces. See if you can transform the Big Idea into little things that you can implement. If you can, then you know the Big Idea has wheels – it’s something that can be tested, evaluated in components, and used to make change in your business at both tactical and strategic levels.
If you try to take apart a Big Idea and find that there’s little or nothing you can operationally implement, then you know the Big Idea is either a complete mismatch for your organization, or it might be full of hot air entirely. Try it with any of the Big Ideas of the day and see if you can turn them into Little Things To Do!
Want to read more like this from Christopher Penn? Get daily updates now: