Selling an idea for $1 million

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There was once a famous celebrity hairdresser who got a frantic call from a woman needing her hair styled immediately for an important gala that evening. The hairdresser rushed to the woman's home, asked for a ribbon, and proceeded to create his masterpiece using only a brush and the ribbon.

When the woman's hair was finished 30 minutes later, she was dazzled beyond belief. "How much do I owe you?" she asked. "$2,000," he replied. She was stunned: "That's outrageous. I'm not going to pay $2,000 for a ribbon." He looked at her coolly, gave the ribbon a tug, and watched his masterpiece instantly unravel into a shaggy mop of unruly curls and locks. "That's fine," he said. "The ribbon is free."

Today, marketing is primarily based on the value of ribbons and not the hairdresser's talent. Corporations tend to value tangibles like billboards and 30-second spots. But that value is changing this very moment. Today, currency is the idea, but tomorrow, ideas will be the currency. The insanely competitive, invent-it-today, reinvent-it-tomorrow world of business can no longer rely solely on capital, raw materials and technology. That stuff is everywhere.

Great thinking is today's most valuable commodity. That's why Fortune 500 companies are seeking thinkers whose thoughts motivate, inspire and ignite minds. The Ideation Nation, as Albert Einstein prophesied, will be a place where "Imagination is more important than knowledge." The ability to create better ideas than the competition is the only sustainable competitive advantage a company can have. The age of the big thinker has finally come-an era where the profits go to the prophets.

It's time for advertisers to stop selling ribbons. Though the advertising business is considered a creative profession where you're supposed to think for a living, the industry has lost its way as it continues to look for more ways to create money instead of ideas.

Advertising agencies have become an antiquated broker business, selling space to clients with creativity thrown in for free. The result is a marketing world that is ad rich and idea poor. Consumers don't want to be bombarded with ads-they want to be inspired by ideas that will change their lives. Ads create transactions. Ideas create transformations. Ads reflect our culture, ideas imagine our future.

The old model of advertising and branding was to improve public perception. The new model demands companies improve public life. To survive, advertising agencies must start nurturing ideas, not just managing clients. Advertisers should be thinking partners, not execution vendors.

proper thinking

Advertising agencies have always been awarded jobs by pitching ideas-in effect, giving their thinking away for free. To become a thinking partner for your clients, you must first start placing value on thinking. Conventional corporate structures discourage employees from thinking properly because they are penalized for incubation, a slow process where ideas percolate.

When I was an employee at several large advertising agencies, I was encouraged to work fast, not slow. There's nothing wrong with speed. But if I spent time thinking instead of writing, I was often the target of jests. If you want to accelerate your thinking, you must slow down. We can always find ways to do it faster. The trick is to find ways to do it better and smarter.

Today, ideas are the single most important driver in any modern economy-accounting for more than half of economic growth in America and Britain. Ideas, more than the application of capital or labor, create wealth. Intellectual capital is in fact America's No. 1 export!

Globalization and technology are creating demand for bigger ideas. This, in turn, causes corporate nervous breakdowns - that is, companies torn between fulfilling a vision and just surviving in business. This corporate nervousness has created a marketplace in waiting-waiting to pay large sums for big ideas-because ideas put markets in motion.

Never before has the world been more willing to pay for thinking. Ideas have become the difference between winners and losers. No longer is an idea's value determined by what the market will bear. The more profitable way of thinking is that an idea's value is determined by what it brings to the marketplace.

So can an idea be worth a million dollars? Of course, any number of multi-million dollar companies and products has been built on a single idea. New, vital, raw, hot, bracing, challenging, paradigm-shattering ideas. Intellectual capital is the new currency. So how much is your idea worth? Whatever you think it is. How can you start thinking for a living?

First you need passion. Passion for your work is the single most important factor in creating. Your drive will take you places unimagined, unthinkable and unprecedented. If you are willing to die for your cause, the effect will be revolutionary.

You also need perseverance and courage. If you don't ask for the price, you won't get it. I sold my first idea for $30,000, the next for $75,000, the next for $450,000 and now each costs over a million.


And you need patience. In the advertising age, speed was rewarded. In the idea age, it is patience that will be heralded. Incubation is where ideas surface. The old Italian saying applies, "Impara l'arte, e mettila da parte," Learn the craft and then set it aside. The five last bastions of thinking are the john, the car, the shower gym and the church.

It is time to abandon the old model of advertising and evolve. Darwin has paid a visit to our industry and in its present state it's as dead as a dodo bird. It is time to stop going to outposts like Scottsdale, Arizona, where advertising junkies convene in what looks more like support groups to discuss the future of advertising. Instead, they need to jettison the cargo of the past and build the ideas of the future.

Change is never easy. It requires all of us to unlearn so much and learn so much more. Should you take the leap of faith be assured that you will run into interference. Cynics, skeptics and the old guard will try to make you into Stepford Managers-people who keep the status quo and never achieve status. In the words of Albert Einstein above the conference room table in what we call the incubation cone read: "The greatest ideas are often met with violent opposition from mediocre minds."

Thinking is not a core competency in American business. That is why more consultancies that think for a living will grow and prosper. BrightHouse opened in Europe just last week and is planning to visit your neighborhood, soon. The Thinker will be tomorrow's most sought after profession. So, the next time someone asks you for an idea, ask him or her how much? If they are taken aback by the price, remember the hairdresser.

After all, giving ideas away just doesn't cut it.


Joey Reiman is Thinker, Founder and CEO of BrightHouse, The Ideation Corporation(tm). His new work "Business at The Speed of Molasses," co-authored with Andrea Hershatter, is due from Random House this fall.

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