How To Be Intolerant Of Dumb Ideas, And Why It’s Important

by Scott Bishop on May 21, 2012

In the preview trailer for our episode of AMC’s new show The Pitch, the first quote is of me saying “I have no tolerance for dumb ideas”. I received messages today asking me about my opinion regarding how my “TV character” was going to be portrayed based on this 30-sec trailer. At first I was a little uneasy with my introduction being an aggressive quote…but honestly, this is who I am. I’m passionate, too intense at times, but no one can accuse me of being indifferent.

True, this line is one sentence picked from a two-hour interview about my philosophy on the industry…but when speaking about general marketing it’s something that would come out of my mouth anyway. I have no tolerance for dumb ideas, and neither should you.

Some folks will try and point that the statement is redundant, that no one likes dumb ideas. Unfortunately if this were true every ad would be good and the movie Battleship would have never been made. Spend five minutes watching TV, open any magazine, go to most company websites or Facebook pages and you’ll find example after example of mediocrity and downright dumb ideas that someone had to sign off on.

You owe it to yourself, your company, and your clients to be better than that.

As a social media marketer or digital strategist you’re paid to be smart. You’re paid to provide insights and ideas that will fulfill client objectives or give the best opportunity to do so.

Working in a business where your mind and thoughts are the product is both a blessing and a curse. You’re going to have differing opinions with your team about what are good ideas and the best way to execute them. Eventually one idea gets picked and your agency better make sure it’s the right one. So what can you do to help minimize the potential that your next idea or campaign is not dumb?

Think Beyond The Ordinary

The same ole way its been done does not work anymore. We no longer compete in a vacuum with direct competition; we compete with anything that can take the attention away from our campaign and product. That’s a big damn list. So in order to get noticed you need smart, highly creative ideas that set a tone and experience about a brand…not just an advertisement and slogan. Besides, it’s lot more fun to work this way.

Speak Up

If ideas and strategies are brought up that you disagree with, it’s vital for you to have the courage to engage in tough candid conversations where you can openly disagree. On the other hand, you need to be open to having your team question your thinking as well. Tough open conversations should lead to better ideas.

Back Your Insights With Reason

If you have an opinion about whether an idea is good or bad, you need to be able to present your insights with reason…not just a hunch. Stats are the best way to reinforce ideas, but you need to easily be able to explain your position that makes sense from the client’s perspective and behavior of their target market.

Poke Holes With Questions

The fastest way to test an idea is asking easy questions to try and poke holes in the thinking. Asking “why” an idea or strategy will work forces everyone to think deeper about their ideas. Asking smart questions will eventually reveal whether your idea is good or bad. It’s also great practice for selling to the client when they’re inevitably going to ask them.

Speak With Those Who Have To Execute

When coming up with an idea and strategy that will need to be executed in an area that is not your expertise, it’s a good idea to bring in the team that will be responsible for success or failure. They’ll let you know if your idea can be done and if the budget and time estimate are accurate. The earlier you can bounce your thinking off them the earlier you’ll know if you’re going down the right path.

So no, when it comes to dumb ideas I have no tolerance. I did not get in this business to solve solutions in the same way it’s always been done. Besides, the same ole way it’s always been done has a much smaller success rate. I make no apologies about being passionate about my work. Yes I’m sure I could sometimes words things better…but that just wouldn’t make for good TV now would it.

*Note: I’m not referring any part of the brainstorming process. That’s a time to be dumb, nuts, crazy and see what sticks*

  • Jerrystoner

    Because creativity in advertising is often subjective it’s not uncommon to have differing points of view about what will work or not. Debate in an agency is healthy and calling out an idea as “dumb” should be followed with rationale as to why it won’t work strategically or won’t connect with the target audience. Also, those idea naysayers should also provide their own “not-so-dumb” ideas. Armchair quarterbacking has no place in any agency.

  • Kuegs

    After you been in the business for a while, your tolerance levels for “dumb ideas” starts to deteriorate. On the flip side though, some of the best brain storming meetings I have attended have been well managed. They allow people to be who they are, and the meetings are conducted on the premise that “no idea is a bad idea”. We’re all adults in this business, and all of us know that this statement isn’t true. Sometimes there are shitty ideas that are presented. Let me rephrase that, a lot of times there are shitty ideas. But during these sessions, all of the sudden something magical pops off the page and hits you right between the eyes. If you’re going to be in this business, you need to be expressive, creative, and brutally honest. If you don’t have thick skin, don’t choose this business as a career. I agree with Scott – I didn’t get in this business to do a mediocre job. I also agree with Jerry Stoner’s post that debate is very healthy in this business. The most important thing to remember in this business, is that companies hire you. If you want to continue working with your clients (or start working with them) then you better provide good results. In brain storming meetings, if you don’t voice your opinion, it just like the presidential election – DON’T BITCH ABOUT THE WINNER. If you’re going to be a naysayers or an armchair quarterback, do us all a favor – don’t accept the meeting invite. If you decide to attend the meeting and you like an idea, don’t be afraid to support it, even if it wasn’t your idea. There’s no room for big egos in this business. Unfortunately they definitely exist. I was taught years ago that if everybody consistently agrees in the room, then somebody needs to leaves. I have carried this learning throughout my career, and still today, I totally agree with it!

  • Thomas Terrell Watts

    I like everything you said…that being said, you failed to implement any of it on The Pitch. You just kept saying you hated the idea—over and over, again.

  • sbishop

    That was from the same first meetings. The execution on our TOD idea I initially disagreed with. None of the strategy was shown or explained. Or shown or explained about how the idea transformed over the week, as they all do. They also didn’t show the 25min I presented about how it would be executed if we won. Ah, the power of editing.

  • Kuegs

    I like to take this opportunity to defend Scott. We have worked on many projects together. As with database analytics (my specialty) strategy is one of the most important parts of a project, but is often overlooked. When Scott works on a project, he definitely brings a new perspective. I have never been in a situation where he has been a naysayer or counterproductive. He’s specialty is Social Media, therefore when he brings up concerns or a different viewpoints, I listen to him. Why? It’s not my specialty! So many people in marketing these days think they’re an expert at everything. Marketing has become very specialized just like the medical field. The total makeup of the industry is changing, and professionals in our industry need to change with it. The biggest change is that you need to rely on people “that know what they’re talking about”. Bringing up concerns and voicing opinions is a good thing, regardless of your specialty. As I said in an earlier post, we work for an agency. Which means I’m an agent for my clients. It also means that if I want to keep working with my clients, or start working with a new prospects, shitty concepts or half-baked ideas won’t cut it. If internal conversations (no matter how heated they get) can make our agency look well prepared, and our ideas well thought out, I’m sorry if feelings get hurt along the way. Even if I personally have to say I hate something, or that I’m not feeling the whole concept– It’s Business! If you want to win or be successful today, meetings and conversations like this are going to happen! Lastly, I totally agree that editors can do whatever they want. In the case of “The Pitch”, I definitely think this was the situation. No, I actually know this was the situation!

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