How To Recognize Big Ideas

Big ideas will change the trajectory of your life. In the age of infinite information, ideas are what we get rewarded for. The value you provide with your business (or in your job) correlates to the quality of your ideas.

Ideas are endless. There is never a lack of them. The struggle is recognizing when an idea is big enough to need action. With a little activation energy, you create something of timeless value that will go on to provide a source of inspiration for others.

David Ogilvy was an advertising pioneer and the “father of branding”. Part of his personal philosophy was that he always did his homework. It’s the people that know the most that have the big ideas.

David spent 3 weeks reading about Rolls-Royce when he first landed their account. He read the manual cover to cover, read reports and engineering documents, and even the things other people had written about the car. Without his ruthless research, he may have never discovered the fact that would go on to become his best advertisement. It read “at 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise comes from the electric clock.”

When Ogilvy & Mather landed their account with Mercedes, David sent a team of people to their headquarters. The goal was to spend as much time as they could interviewing engineers. Learning as much about their process as possible. After roughly 3 weeks, they ran a campaign for them that would 4x Mercedes sales from 10,000 cars a year to 40,000.

David’s most successful ideas came from studying the products to write factual advertisements that worked. They all leveraged his depth of knowledge, frame of competition, and consumer research to find the best promise that drove people to buy.

Preparation is nothing without a big idea to back the work.

David Ogilvy was one of the most creative advertisers, yet he admits “in my long career as a copywriter I have not had more than 20 [big ideas], if that.” He even reflected on how many ideas went unnoticed and what they could have become. Because big ideas are hard to recognize, they're guaranteed to attract attention.

Ideas only come from the unconscious mind if the right conditions are present. The conscious mind must have quality information. Immediately followed by the space for the unconscious to process and run free. There are activities (walks, showers, alcohol, etc.) that will allow the two to be in sync, but if you don’t listen the ideas will be gone. Fleeing without any warning.

The way we come up with good ideas is by first casting a wide net, diverging down rabbit holes and exploring the different possibilities. We then begin to converge on the best idea possible. Often this whole process is happening behind the scenes, without us even realizing it.

To recognize a big idea as you begin converging, David suggests asking yourself 5 questions.

  1. Is it unique?
  2. Did it make me gasp?
  3. Could it be used for 30 years?
  4. Do I wish I had thought of it myself?
  5. Does it fit the strategy to perfection?

When you stumble upon something big you’ll know it, there will be a surge of inspiration and a force that compels you to move forward. Inspiration is perishable so act on it.


Join 1,000+ others receiving Pioneers Project

Every Sunday, you'll receive ideas to help you challenge the status quo, refine your craft, and shape the future.