Are you giving away too many ideas?

Should you give away ideas to potential clients before making a deal?

Ideas are a dime a dozen and coming up with them is really easy. Sometimes too easy. And as someone who is in ‘ideation mode’ all the time, I freely give them away to potential clients. A few of my partners don’t like this. It makes them uncomfortable because they think that we give away too much before we close the deal. It’s not strange to see that our proposals lay out an almost step-by-step strategy with as much details as possible.

The way I’ve always looked at it (and also because I think most of the proposal I’ve ever received all look alike and look more like a recipe for anyone) is that you make proposals with the intent of differentiating yourself too. With that mindset, your proposal should also ‘look and feel’ different.

But the issue is how much is too much?

In my opinion there are a few ways to look at this:

  1. Insights first, ideas second. As I said above, ideas are a dime a dozen. We can all come up with wild and crazy ideas if we set our minds to it and put ourselves in uncomfortable situations. But ideas don’t really matter, insights do. For the most part just coming up with random ideas isn’t a focused exercise, but if you have insights you have much more focus.
  2. Idea Bandwidth overwhelms resistance. Overwhelm resistance with speed and suddenness I like say. There are types of people (and therefore types of businesses) that are by nature not creative. Some businesses are not designed to ideate, especially if they operate in boring industries. It is these types of people and businesses that if you give them ideas, they’ll take whatever comes their way. They might even perceive you as a genius because you’ve given them so much that it’s almost too good to be true.
  3. Execution matters more than ideas. Yup, you have to be able to execute on these ideas. You can come up with them but execution is where the rubber meets the road. No innovation is going to happen if you don’t execute, so that is really the challenge.
  4. Innovation requires commitment. Because the vast majority of innovation activities require a commitment of money, people, time and will; lots of businesses will not immediately jump on the idea. Another thing to consider is that innovation involves risk. It requires doing things quite differently. So for me, giving away ideas isn’t really a risk because it’s just the start of a process. It’s not the end.
  5. The world is full of ideas already. Jump on to Twitter on any given day and people are freely giving away or exploring ideas. There is an endless supply of ideas, the problem is selection.
  6. Sharing is the new normal. In the world we live in today where information flows freely, more people connect, and new reputations are being built on ‘helpfulness’; being helpful is expected. This also makes me think why people who don’t participate in social media don’t get it. They don’t see how giving ideas away is the new normal.
  7. Innovation begins with conversations. Goes with the last point, conversations where sharing takes place are breeding grounds for ideas. I might give you an idea but in talking about and hearing your and others perspectives, that idea might transform into something else.

You don’t give ideas away because it’s cool, but because it’s part of what one does in social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn. Adding value to the conversation is how you contribute and build your reputation. Think about it like a real-time wikipedia entry, lots of people adding their own perspective.

There is a also an experimentation strategy going on here because not all potential clients are the same. The approach you take depends on how you size up the situation. If you’re talking to someone who clearly has no interest in innovation, then the above points will not make sense.

Anyway, what do you think, how much is too much?

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