“A thousand songs in your pocket.”
“Two great tastes that taste great together.”
“JAWS in space.”
Any of those sound familiar?
The first is the famous line from Steve Jobs’s first introduction of the Apple iPod.
The second is the tagline for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that I grew up with.
The third is how screenwriter Dan O’Bannon originally pitched his movie ALIEN to the movie studios.
What do you notice about each of them?
Did you notice that each has two parts? Well, guess what? All new ideas do.
After all, if O’Bannon had only said “it’s JAWS,” the studios would have said, “We already have that.”
If Steve Jobs had only said, “it’s a 1000 songs,” you would have said, “I already have that in a bajillion CDs stuffed into the sun visor of my car.”
If Reese’s had only said, “it’s peanut butter,” you would have said, “HOW CAN I EAT THAT WITH JUST MY HANDS.” (Maybe that’s not an issue for you. You do you.)
You can only get something new by adding to something that already exists. Sometimes it’s another element (like peanut butter). Sometimes it’s a different context (like space). Sometimes it’s a different technology (MP3s) and/or form factor (pocket-sized). But if you have a new or different idea—and you want people to see that newness and difference, too—there must be a second element.
Try it with your own idea (by which I also mean, as usual, your product, service, or program):
1. Write down how you summarize your idea for someone who’s never heard about it before.
2. Count the elements.
The bad news: if you look at your idea and can only see one element, your idea isn’t novel—or, at least, it won’t be seen as one. It’ll be seen as undifferentiated or as a commodity, as in “We sell fuses,” “We’re an AI company,” or “I speak on leadership.”
But if you see (or add!) a second element then you’re halfway there.
Why only halfway? Because for your idea to be new or different the combination of elements has to be new or different, too. “We sell un-blowable fuses.” “We use automation to decarbonize the shipping industry.” “I speak about the leadership lessons of lemurs.”
See the difference?
That means there’s a third step:
3. Make sure the combination of elements is new or novel.
Can you do this with messages? Yes, and you should—they’re ideas, too. To wit, the main message behind my first book is “Build the stories people will tell themselves about your idea.” Two elements (stories, audience perspective) that hadn’t been combined that way before.
Can you do this with more than two elements? Yes, but I don’t recommend it. Each additional element adds not only complexity, which gets in the way of people’s understanding of your idea, but also potentially weakens your overall idea (thanks to the dilution effect, among other issues), and that gets in the way of people’s agreement with it.
Is there more to it than that? Of course, but honestly, there isn’t much more.
- Relevance is required. Even if your “un-blowable fuse” idea is new, I’m only likely to be interested in it if I actually struggle with replacing fuses.
- The elements need to be individually attractive. This builds on my relevance point, but if I love chocolate and hate peanut butter, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups aren’t going to be for me. Your audience doesn’t have to actively love or want both elements but they can’t actively dislike one or the other.
- The elements need to be complementary in combination. I may love chocolate. I may love peanut butter. I may also love fish. I do not want either chocolate or peanut butter on fish. Yuck.
Now, your turn: What else do you want to know?
This idea (of pioneering ideas being the product of preexisting principles) is at the heart of my next book, and I really want to know what you want and need to know about it.
So, can I ask a favor? Email me and tell me what other questions about this you have!For your idea to be new or different the combination of elements has to be new or different too. Click To Tweet
Please note that many of the links are affiliate links, which means if you buy a thing I link to, I get a percentage of the cost, and then donate it to charity.
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