The late Felix Dennis used to say, ‘Ideas we’ve had ’em, since Eve first met Adam, but take it from me, execution’s the key’. I’ve met people who have had fabulous ideas who have failed, and those who have done nothing original and succeeded. It’s all in the detail, but nevertheless, I’m most comfortable with good ideas.
The trouble is that good ideas at the outset always have a million reasons to be shot down.
If I’d done market research, and asked a target market in 1995 if they would like to eat raw fish off conveyor belts with robots serving the drinks, or in the case of YOTEL in 2005 if they would like to sleep in 15 square-metre rooms with no natural light, I don’t think I’d have had much of a take up, let alone what a potential investor might have said. But, when we opened both of these, people responded with what I call the magic words: This is so obvious why didn’t someone do this before.
The path to both ideas began with numerous sketches, drawings, and research (and an obsession with detail). One mind, or a pair of enthusiastic like-minded individuals is key in the early stage of ideation. Search all the parks in the world; you won’t find a statue to a committee.
I’m a notebook enthusiast. I write down what people say, ideas that come up, things that I think look good, and I take photos and know where they are. This process creates a mindset. In the early ’60s, Bob Dylan used to keep a notebook of sentences he’d heard or read. I’m sure that’s where, ‘You don’t need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows’ or, ‘Can’t find the pump ‘cos the vandal took the handle’ came from. And he put them together randomly, which is why people have struggled with the meaning over the years. Anyway, the bottom line is: write, write, write.
And enthusiasm is the oil for ideas. If you’re a process driven individual, or you work in a regimented environment it’ll be harder. Anarchy and confusion are the friends of original ideas. When kids are 13 or 14, everything is possible and imagination is still just about intact. What we then do – for the most part – is to educate the imagination out of our children, and then put the fear of God into them that their life will go wrong without conformity and exams. It’s not healthy for creativity, and it’s certainly not healthy for success. That said I am glad that civil engineers and brain surgeons are well trained. You’ll find your own way to loosen up that mind so you’re receptive to and get excited by ideas.
I left school at the age of 16 with virtually no exams passed, and I also never owned a television for many years – so I reckon that my child brain stayed intact. I wasn’t indoctrinated, hence the gateways are pretty free and open to new things. Where possible, I try to keep it that way – by being excited and passionate about new things, often to the point that if I have a new idea, I’ll pick up the phone, or piece of paper, and start immediately. I admit I’ve even been known to call someone a couple of minutes into a project and say entirely seriously, ‘I’m working on a project to develop whatever it is, and I wonder if you could help me on this or that’. It’s exciting to do and gets things going.
If you’re interested enough, and practise you’ll find that things will pop in to your head. Naughtily, I sometimes walk into a room, put my hands on the back of a chair until I have the attention of my audience, and then say the words: What I really think about this is… and not know at that exact point what it is I am going to say next. If you can get practised and relaxed enough the ideas arrive. Try it!
Now listen to the late great Felix Dennis in this poem called How to get Rich, which tells you everything you need to know really… and he did get rich!
Ideas we’ve had ’em
Since Eve first met Adam
But take it from me
Execution’s the key
The truth is the harder you work
The more that you sweat
The luckier you get
Go find a likely investor
To get what you need
You toady to greed
Go find it but first wine and dine it
It’s tedious work
With a talented jerk
To win it
You’ve got to be in it
But never be late
To quit and cut bait
Expansion is vanity
Profit is sanity
And it walks on two legs
The first step
Just do it and bluff your way through it
Remember to duck
Godspeed and good luck