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The Idea Factory

The latest idea feels like the greatest idea! Or, that’s what most thought leaders seem to think, as they jump from one inspiration to the next. Soon, ideas begin to pile up without ever being developed or sold. What’s the good in that?

A serial-brainstorming approach can be highly satisfying to an intellectually curious thought leader, but it’s a dysfunctional way to run a business—even a content business.

Imagine, if you will, a small manufacturing company that produces square blue widgets. They produce tens of thousands of them. But one day, the CEO goes to a conference and comes back with new ideas. “Forget square blue widgets, we’re going to start focusing on round red widgets!” Everyone—marketing, sales, manufacturing, and accounting—would quickly revolt, saying, “That’s nuts!”

Like that manufacturing company, I’ve seen thought leadership run amok, churning out idea after idea that doesn’t turn into product. Worse, while they’re constantly ginning up new ideas, the few bits of completed content wind up languishing, unsold, on the shelf.

A content business requires discipline on the “idea factory” manufacturing floor. So, what do you do if you’re a thought leader with two decades worth of underdeveloped ideas?

Imagine yourself as the proud new owner of an idea factory. You’d schedule a meeting with the factory’s leadership team and ask them to show you samples of everything they’ve produced, and everything they’ve thought of producing. You might:

  • Put a sixty-day moratorium on new idea development;
  • Conduct an inventory of all existing content;
  • Compare ideas against one other; and
  • Evaluate which ideas have the greatest potential in the market.

About five years ago, I flew out to meet with a thought leader. She’d reached a point in her speaking career where clients were asking, “What comes after your keynote?” While she had many ideas, she didn’t have a structured or strategic answer to give.

We met in Los Angeles, poolside at the hotel, for a content mapping day, and I watched her pull out a full ream of paper. She explained that for the past two weeks she’d been gathering all the ideas she’d had during her ten years as a speaker. On each sheet of paper, she wrote one idea with a black Sharpie marker. We spent the next two days doing a literal “page turn” of her ideas.

It was the first time the thought leader had actually reviewed all of her content at one time, and it allowed her to see it with much greater clarity. She could finally tell which were core ideas and which were peripheral. Over the next few months, we continued the evaluation process until she had a clear content map that could lead to product development.

A brilliant thought leader can come up with thousands of inspirational ideas. A successful thought leader organizes, prioritizes, and develops them in a way that keeps the “idea factory” working, as well.

Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

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