Martin Puris

I think it’s fair to say that at the moment this world is no place for anyone with a weak stomach. There are more than enough crises to go around. But as we ought to know by now, a crisis can also be an opportunity.

I’m not sure about a lot of things these days. But there are two things that I’m absolutely, positively certain of:

The first is that life in the marketplace of 2021 and all the years to come will be dramatically different - trickier, less forgiving, and more combative than ever.

The second is that success in the years ahead will belong to those who get it, the dreamers - those with the biggest ideas, the most innovative thinking, the most exquisite execution, and the most meaningful and compelling messages.

For the rest - the laggards, the unimaginative, the timid, the incrementalists - it will never be easier to fail. And fail they likely will.

Before the pandemic smacked us in the forehead, Forbes predicted that 42% of the corporations on this year’s Fortune 500 list will have vanished by the year 2025 - following in the ignominious footsteps of other one-time corporate giants such as Kodak, Polaroid, Compaq, Pan Am, Enron, MCI, Woolworth’s, General Foods, Pets.com, Lionel, Amoco, Blockbuster, Schwinn, Atkins, Reader’s Digest, Bethlehem Steel, Circuit City, and Tower Records. The list of the dear departed could go on. And let’s remember that, except for a taxpayer-funded bailout, we could add General Motors to that list as well.

All companies that were founded and built on the strength of a Big Idea and then somehow lost their way - failed to address the future, suspicious of creative thinkers, wary of risk, frozen at the wheel, unwilling to search for opportunity, uncertain of their own identity, yet no doubt convinced of their own immortality until the very end.

The importance of a Big Idea, well communicated, cannot be overstated. It’s the beginning of everything, the organizing principle. It’s the flag a company marches behind, it’s the glitter that attracts new customers and the best and brightest recruits, it’s the emotional connection that turns customers into cultists. Some Big Ideas are so Big, so revolutionary - names like Uber, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Tesla come to mind - that they can get along quite nicely without using conventional advertising as a way of connecting to the market. Fortunately for my plumber, my carpenter, my electrician, and my heirs, Ideas that Big are mercifully few and far between.

Now, because I fear that the phrase “Big Idea” has been used so frequently and so recklessly that it’s all but lost its meaning before we go further, I’d like to give you my definition of a Big idea. First of all, a Big Idea can come in any category, can be expressed in any medium. Some may actually have the potential to change the world, others, on a less grandiose scale, may just cause us to think a bit differently about a company.

But whether it’s electricity, the steam engine, moveable type, the Model T, paper towels, lipstick, the rock musical Hamilton, Marx’s Das Kapital, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, Amazon, Apple, Google, Nike’s Just Do It, or BMW’s The Ultimate Driving Machine, all Big Ideas have five things in common.

Read more on ‘A BIG idea’ and on the five things they have in common.
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Read more on ‘A Big Idea’. (Next article will be published on March 30, 2021)

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