What Is An Idea?

In business and advertising circles, the notion of “ideas” is thrown around a lot. Big Ideas. Best Ideas. Ideation. Some even go to Idea City for inspiration. And it’s all good – in the sense that all brainstorming can have value. But let me offer you a more particular, perhaps deeper definition of Idea that is connected to my previous post around memes (a self-replicating and self-perpetuating sequence of ideas). You can think about it this way, a gene is a biological replicator that powers all life on this planet – so a successful meme, like a successful gene, is one that is highly adaptive and durable. It makes copies of itself widely and deeply in a given environment, like a virus or a species of organism.

An Idea is therefore more than just a single thought in a chain. It is a whole chain. A bulleted list or pyramid or funnel of mere attributes is not an Idea. A single message is not an idea. A true Idea has depth and a self-repeating quality, like a fabulous molecule of individual thoughts, linked together in a powerful sequence. A great idea, if deliberately engineered, is like Dolly the cloned sheep – created by humans, but viable, complete and able to reproduce on its own.

A successful brand is an Idea. The strategy behind Starbucks as the “third place” in our lives where we can momentarily escape the responsibilities of Home and Work (the first and second “places”) and experience a shot of pleasure that helps us get through the day — is an Idea that has replicated massively.

So the next time your marketing team or your agency throws the word “Idea” around, try looking at it through this filter. Is it an intuitively designed sequence of thoughts? Does it have a catchy, self-repeating quality? Or is it merely a Thought, parading as an Idea?