We love Big Ideas.
We court them, we share them, we follow them. We pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to conferences so that speakers can share their Big Ideas with us.
Yet, at the end of the day – or the end of the quarter, or the end of the year – when we’re assessing our marketing performance, how much did those Big Ideas change how we do business? Some Big Ideas are more impactful than others. The key question for everyone with not enough time or money to invest in every idea is, which Big Ideas should we pursue?
There’s a straightforward way to separate Big Ideas that will work for you from Big Ideas that won’t, and it comes 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. Maybe someone’s chasing after you with a sword, or two people are attacking you simultaneously – whatever the circumstance, you have to escape and prevail.
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 and can make it work for you in most circumstances.
Some kata work better for some people than for others. I’ve struggled with some and found others to be very aligned with how I move and fight.
The same is true for any Big Idea in business and marketing. Every Big Idea isn’t applicable to every business. In order to find the Big Ideas that work for you, you have to work with them in the same way as a martial arts kata.
First, does the Big Idea solve your most pressing problem? A kata that teaches you how to deal with a nine-foot spear attack is less helpful if you’re faced every day with a thug wearing brass knuckles. There might be some concepts you can transfer, but for the most part, you’d rather learn how to deal with the very specific problem you’re facing most often. The same is true for the Big Idea – does it solve the problem you face most often?
Second, can you break the Big Idea down into actionable pieces? Despite movie action scenes, no kata ever looks like “bad guy attacks, you instantly win”. There are sequences of specific actions you take to deal with the attack, nullify or evade it, and then disrupt the attacker’s ability to keep attacking you. Likewise, does the Big Idea break down into concrete steps, or is it just a fluffy idea with no action plans?
Third, can you perform the actionable pieces? A kata that relies on skills you don’t have isn’t helpful. If you’re being attacked by a spear wielder and the defense uses a war sword, and you’ve never practiced a day in your life with a war sword, the technique isn’t going to help. That’s not to say it isn’t valuable, but it’s not something you can use right now. The best martial arts address today’s problems and provide solutions that help now, plus help you grow. The best Big Ideas do the same – they help you start to put out today’s fire and set you on a path towards growth tomorrow. A Big Idea that requires a million dollar budget and a team of 20 people isn’t going to help the average small business owner.
For example, in my keynote talk about AI, one of the points is that vendors like Google Analytics already integrate AI into the service:
You don’t have to do anything except use the feature – it’s built right in, and it helps solve problems today by highlighting things you should know in your own data.
These three tips:
- Does the Big Idea solve your biggest problem?
- Can you break the Big Idea into actionable steps?
- Can you implement the actionable steps?
Help us understand whether a Big Idea is valuable to us or not. Listen to every Big Idea with these three questions in mind, and you’ll immediately begin creating more value for your marketing.
Disclosure: this post has been updated through the years and was completely rewritten in the most recent revision.
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