3 ways to screw up your next Really Big Idea

The last time I was involved in the comeuppance of the next Really Big Idea, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company ended up owning it. Well, that's because it involved renting out their motorcycles, so I guess it was a foregone conclusion. But we'll get back to that later.

In 1996, my husband and I became involved with a group of "regular guys" from New England who came up with the notion to get Harley talking to Budget Car Rentals about a Big Idea. Why not add Harleys to Budget's fleet of rental offerings and let us run the operation. BAM! We had an instant phenomenon that went viral. And this was before the internet went completely mainstream, when people were still asking about web pages, "What's the point?"

In technology terms, we were still light years away from social networking. News of budding Hog rental outlets went wild and people would stop us on the streets to ask how they could "get in" by buying a franchise.

It was exhilarating.

It was heady.

It was scary.

Within months of moving to Daytona, Florida to kick off the first Grand Opening, the guys from New England and their new concept would be written about in major publications like The Wall Street Journal, Playboy Magazine, USA Today, and the like. The company, American Road Collection, was even the subject of a Jeopardy question. On the night the episode aired I thought,

"Wow. For a bunch of jamokes from the littlest state in the union, this has to be a sign that we've made it!"
What was made was a lot of publicity for the Motor Company, amazing memories for riders, and introductions to the concept for many groups who would later break into the business in partnership with Harley. It's not that the concept hadn't been thought of before, but that no one thought to bring two giants together and get authorization to operate under their iconic brand umbrella.

And now if you try to google American Road Collection it'll lead you to a lot of hits, but they will no longer lead you to the company.

The following is written with a disclaimer: As an observer and participant who stood on the outside of the more top-level decisions, my observations are just that.

Notes from the field - How to screw up your Big Idea

Big Idea Screwup #1
Don't decide, right from the start, whether you want to simply be an idea generator or take the concept all the way through and then some. It's not important to think about whether you want to make your own brand or just make money by borrowing someone else's.
Sure, getting Harley talking to Budget made the business a huge attention-grabber. But once the giants began advertising the concept, forward momentum started a steamroll that ran its own course. American Road Collection gave their business a very respectable run but got caught in the dust and noise of the giants. How do you avoid this? Ensure that your own brand is carried forward in the momentum of the giant's media strategy. Make sure they take your brand name on their ride, and that you negotiate a prominent seat on their party train.

Big Idea Screwup #2:
Don't protect your idea beyond its implementation.
Sometimes a Big Idea is born and that's where a whole lot energy is expended. Thinking beyond the initial launch may have been done in the business plan, but maybe you sabotage yourself by secretly believing that the idea won't really take off. Don't be foolish. It's just as important to emotionally prepare yourself for the long haul if you want to stay in the game, and assume the idea will succeed into the next 10 years.
Plan B? Engineer your graceful exit when you're through with the launch phase and have passed it on to the next torch bearer, and determine what you'd like to take with you. Is it simply the experience? Start publicizing your Rainmaker credentials early and take advantage of opportunities to learn best practices for launching your next Big Idea.

Big Idea Screwup #3:
Don't become indispensable to those who use the idea.

Ok, so you've got a great plan that's guaranteed to go viral and have decided it's ok to borrow someone else's brand umbrella to kick it off. Start working your way into becoming indispensable to the movement you've started. Establish your voice as THE leader so that when this particular gig doesn't work out, you're still the person in the know. Start your blog now, especially for a brick and mortar business, because the internet is where people in the business will seek out the resources and knowledge. Push your personal brand to the forefront by creating accounts in your own name with a clear tie-in to the business.
Finally, and on the other hand, consider this:
Maybe you're "just" an Idea Person.
If that's the case, and you value the creative spirit more than the glory, then forget all of those suggestions and just keep churning them out and watcing them catch on. Because sometimes that's where you'll find the best fun.
Meanwhile, until my next Big Idea takes off, I get to write blog posts about "when I used to be a playah".

Twitter as Zen Practice

If you're reading this post in March of 2009, you've likely come to this spot on the web via your participation in Twitter. If that's true, then you don't need convincing from me as to how much it can add to your day. You can just skip to the mosaic below to find some new tweeters to follow, or to the link where you can build your own collage.

But if you're here and haven't experienced Twitter's form of social media, you're missing access to some of the most amazing resources you'd be hard pressed to gather without this kind of tool. Yes, I am advocating for Twitter, a service I initially laughed at and like a whole lot of people, logged in, typed a single inane tweet, sat back and watched absolutely nothing happen. My first thought was not an original one:

"What's the point?"

Months later I tried again and finally figured it out. It's about gaining access to the snippets of thoughts humans run through at any moment and the ebb and flow of ideas is as interesting as you make it, just by being selective in choosing great people, ideas, and causes to follow.

It's not about what they write; it's about where they can lead you. By the same token, you can believe that gathering "followers" means you have the responsibility of coming up with something worthwhile. I find that holding that idea forces me to constantly ask myself "how can I add value"? Even if no one reads a single one of my tweets, I'm consciously working on choosing the direction of my communication, and therefore my thoughtstream.

Or, you can do nothing but sit back and watch the ideas and thoughts scroll by, here now, but gone in an instant. From that perspective, Twitter's a networked and worldwide illustration of the philosophy of Zen.

Get your twitter mosaic here.

Vera's a Natural Blue

I’d heard Vera’s distinctive voice and thought her singing style fell on the right side of a moaning wail. Though I didn't know who she was, with a single verse, I understood a lot about where she came from.

Friday night is one reserved for dinners with friends from my last job but since leaving a few years ago, the threads that connect us are wearing thinner. I’m beginning to resign myself to our drift away from each other, and there was a time I would have waved it off as inevitable. As I get older, though, I'm not so glib. I find something a little mournful in the fact that during a life we go through people. People go through us.

A few hours into this particular Friday's get-together, my sister and I left the restaurant and headed for that tiny hookah bar I keep complaining about but can’t seem to stay away from. Shisha is apparently now good stuff in my book. But it’s a trendy way to spend an evening and we’re aware of wasting idle time with yet another passing fancy. We’ll enjoy hookah bars until the next hip thing comes along and justify our visits with the fact that the establishment supports local artists, including our most talented cellist friends. It's when the artists become overrun by the late night arrival of the fashionista crowd that we’re apt to roll our eyes at their air-kiss greetings and bulky designer purses. Last Friday the scenery was no different. Except for a few minutes when Vera Hall grieved and cried.

There were only a dozen of us in a room meant to hold no more than 30 or 40. We hunkered in groups under dim red lamps and talked mostly about nothing. But when you’re in a hip bar, you feel the need to behave as if you’re engaged. Conversations about nothing aren’t just common, they become necessary to keep the ambiance.

Vera sang a Natural Blues. When Moby’s recording began, and before the sampling of her 1937 song, it was just background trance music softly pumping energy into the room. When Vera's voice rang through, at least ten of us, including the bartenders and servers, stepped outside race and class to cry our natural blues with her. We sang the tune’s repeated chorus to no one and everyone, stopping in mid conversation to become absorbed in the lyrics, letting our gaze wander to a painting on the wall, or to the front door. I watched as we all began a synchronous bob and soft wail, closing ourselves off from everyone and reaching out to no one. For a very short time, in the middle of a place we were supposed to appear guarded and fashionable, our need to sing a common song was greater.

We still hear you, Ms. Hall.

Pulling the Rug Out from Under

What struck me first was the look of resignment on their faces, the shoulder shrugs, and the dragging feet. And they weren't even the newly homeless.

South Florida is facing many more months of foreclosures, and lots more runs by Trash Out Teams whose job it is to destroy and dump the personal possessions left behind by families whose last efforts to keep their homes has failed. The companies hired by banks to clean the homes face a mounting collection of children's toys, clothing, family photographs, and even pets, and there's no clear end in sight. Everyone involved in trashouts in this video I hate to watch (yet can't turn away from) seems to feel, well, just bad and that's understandable because according to reports from USA Today and other sources, since 2003, many of us have been just one paycheck away from homelessness. How many of us can identify with the feeling of rubbing up against the threat of poverty during at least one point in our lives.

I'm not a public relations or social media guru, but I'm going to use their resources to find you. I believe that the goods left in the homes are waiting to become part of a positive outcome, and this can be facilitated through a web app which connects area charities to their local trash outs. Not only that, but the app would ideally give all area charities an equal chance to see a listing of the homes, and/or bid on the goods left behind. I'd like to see the items go to charities who redistribute them free of charge to those starting out all over again, but saving the stuff from the local dump is the higher priority.

I've got an idea, but could use some help. If you are involved in a charity, have a background in public relations/social media, and real estate or banking, I want to hear your feedback on this project. Tell me how to work to make a positive story come out of this idea.

Contact @elevenser on Twitter or elevenser@yahoo.com.

Goods Waiting, and a Call Answered.

My call to assist in efforts to place abandoned goods from foreclosed homes into the hands of those in need has been answered by Ethical Brand! They've stepped up to help bridge the gap between the supply of furniture, clothing and other household items, and charities wishing to assist in redistribution.

Who is Ethical Brand? They are about ethical consumption. EB is a branding company genuinely committed to organizations recognized for 'doing the right thing'.

In EB's own words:

...'doing the right thing' is simply a matter of making a service, product, employment or investment choice that is obviously right.

Branding with good conscious is clearly in need as increasing numbers of families turn to charities and services dedicated to keeping them on their feet.

In this article, the Sun-Sentinel reports that in South Florida foreclosure activity has risen 43 percent since February. Unfortunately this means that there will be a lot more usuable goods left waiting while area families go without. In addition to the folks at Ethical Brands, I'm certain there are plenty more people and organizations willing to help. This project will mean just a single step in the walk to close the gap.

To help, contact me at Twitter: @elevenser or via email at elevenser@yahoo.com.

If you are facing foreclosure, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has developed this guide to avoiding foreclosure.

All the best,

The Search for an Ethical Pirate

Television sets, clothing, computers, and everything else left behind when families flee imminent forclosure need to find a new home with those in need. Seems like a simple enough idea, but the exchange of goods is apparently a tough thing to coordinate.

Just take a look at this Consumerist video to see the amazing list of things left behind.

Last week while brainstorming with Sunil Sebastian and a few friends, we came up with the idea of a web app or website which would do three simple things:

. Allow charities to sign up for free goods within their area (by zip code)
. Allow companies who come in to "clean" the foreclosed homes to post their scheduled visits (by zip code)
. Allow the charities to contact the Cleaners offline to arrange a "meetup"

Anyone up for further brainstorming? Is the idea viable?

If you've got thoughts, skills, or ideas to make this happen, contact me via Twitter @elevenser or send an email to elevenser@yahoo.com

a blog without photos

is like a fish with a bicycle. And a flat tire.