How to Create a Great Idea? Part 1: Memes

Last week I introduced L’Institut Idée, the new laboratory for Great Ideas we’re launching as of today in conjunction with Bleublancrouge and Scientific Intelligence. A lot of excitement is in the air, and the inaugural events in Montreal are happening as we speak.

But while it’s exciting to talk about the Age of Ideaship, it’s also important that we go beyond a discussion of philosophy and tackle a more practical question:  What is the best way to discover and formulate a Great Idea?

There’s an old saying that says, “A strategy is only as good as the insight that went into it.” Even the most gifted strategists have little chance of developing a successful Great Idea and Master Plan, unless they’re working with the right insights into what the marketplace truly wants and how their company (or client) can uniquely deliver on those wants/needs.

That’s a great place to begin. And that’s where L’Institut and its founding partners have a unique point of view. If you’ve been following our blog for the last little while, then you’ll know that our take on what drives the marketplace stems from the notion of Memes. Memes are recurring, self-repeating ideas that, at a certain point, take on a life of their own. Seth Godin refers to them as “viruses of the mind”, which is an apt expression. Memes can manifest initially as trends, such as on the Internet or in fashion circles, where speed of transmission is extremely swift.

But ultimately, a successful meme becomes so embedded in public consciousness so as to become fixtures, almost taken for granted. The electric light bulb or the telephone are both meme structures that have become so “endemic” that we barely even notice them anymore. But we use them all the time.

So, a Great Idea must be based on a Meme or Meme System that is waiting to be activated and leveraged. A hidden sequence of needs and themes that represent something unmet and highly desirable, and therefore something big. You can see this kind of explosive replication of a Meme with a new product launch that catches fire, such as the Samsung Galaxy or the first iPad launch. Or a pop song or music video that races up the charts and scores an astonishing number of views and downloads. But memetic activity is happening all around us, usually in more subtle ways.

This is precisely where we at L’Institut, Wunderkind and Scientific Intelligence have a key advantage. A method for discovering the Memes that will move society, called the Structural Mapping Process. In one session, one fell swoop, with any group of people who have even the most remote association with the topic at hand, we will reveal a clear picture of the Meme territory around a brand or idea, even if that idea is only a concept in development.

In future posts, I’ll offer a few examples of Memes we’ve found, and go further into the journey of creating a Great Idea. But suffice it to say: Step 1 is “Know your memes”. With that knowledge, you’re far more likely to build an idea that has the potential to catch fire.